Houston competing for more Panama Canal business

June 24, 2011 8:25:24 AM PDT
It's history in the making where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. The Panama Canal is expanding, and what it could mean for Houston can be summed up in one word -- opportunity.

The Panama Canal is 36 months away from opening three new sets of locks, expanding its reach by enlarging its capacity to handle ships more the double the size of those passing through now.

And on a private tour of the project, Missouri City Council Member Danny Nguyen was struck by what it means.

"This is going to be a great opportunity for everybody, for Panama, Houston, and other related cities in America," Nguyen said.

He sees the $5 billion expansion as a drop in the bucket compared to the impact this will have on world trade.

"I can visualize, Tom. I could visualize all of the cargo shipments from Asia, from Vietnam, from Thailand, will be going through here," he said.

So it almost goes without saying that Panama will benefit the most from the expansion of the canal. After all, they're the ones do all of the heavy lifting. But what about all of those ports of call in the Caribbean, the Gulf and east coast of the United States? That is where there is a real competition brewing for every single dollar.

From Houston to Miami, Savannah, and Norfolk, Virginia, almost every port is betting big.

"We really know the best place for this is Houston. Houston is known as where the rail meets the sea. That's why our city logo has a locomotive on it," said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

The Greater Houston Partnership led a delegation from Houston here this week. He's meeting and touring, asking and answering questions about Houston's role.

"There's clearly competition. That's exactly why we're on this mission, is to get a sense of what we need to do to prepare," he said.

There is a lot of preparation already underway at the Port of Houston. But others are preparing too.

We know that delegations from other U.S. ports are making similar visits here to stake their claims.

"It's like a big game of chess. It's fascinating," said Daniel Crocker with the U.S. embassy in Panama.

Crocker is a commerce expert with U.S. embassy in Panama and briefed the delegation on Thursday on the work that lies ahead.

"I'm not sure I would bet on any single player but the Port of Houston has a lot of opportunity there," Crocker said.

A lot of opportunity, a lot of potential -- maybe best put by Houston City Controller Ronald Green.

"I think this is long term. This is gonna be a game changer for all of us," Green said.

It's a game changer that's just 36 short months away.


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