Director: State Port poised to ship automobiles within a couple of years

The MSC LAURA at State Docks

The director of the Alabama State Port Authority said the $300 million investment to get into the shipping container business was expensive, but worth it. (contributed)

POINT CLEAR, Alabama – The head of the Alabama State Port Authority said it has identified a site for a $54 million automotive shipping terminal and the port hopes to be ready to ship Alabama-made cars and SUVs in a year or two.

Speaking to the Economic Development Association of Alabama‘s Summer 2014 Conference, Jimmy Lyons, director and chief executive of the Port Authority, said while most of the vehicles produced in

Alabama and surrounding states are for the domestic market, some of those vehicles are bound for other countries.

Up until now, the Port has not been equipped to ship cars. That could change with the new terminal, which would allow for marshalling cars and roll-on, roll-off operations.

Not only will a new terminal allow for shipping cars bound for foreign markets, but it opens the door to receive cars from those markets – particularly cars that are produced in Mexico or South America.

The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal could also increase that potential as well as other shipping opportunities, Lyons said.

For now, commodities and shipping containers are the main products moving through the Port and generating the $160 million in gross revenue for the Port last year, Lyons said.

The leading Port products are coal (most of it Alabama-mined), steel, forest products, grains, chemicals and poultry.

Speaking of poultry, a new refrigerated shipping warehouse will allow the Port to handle more poultry when it is complete, Lyons said.

He said the Port has been investing an average of $65 million to $70 million each year in expanding the port’s capabilities. Lyons said the Port is self-sufficient and doesn’t require funding from the state.

The Port spans 1,700 acres, employs 600 people and the 26 million tons that moves through the Port each year ranks it the 12th largest Port in the nation, Lyons said.

Although it was late getting into the shipping container game, Lyons said the $300 million investment the Port made to be able to handle shipping containers was the single largest expansion project it has ever taken on, but it has been worth the investment.

“Getting in the container business was not a cheap venture,” he said.

The Port is currently building an intermodal facility that will allow the easy transfer of containers to rail cars on trains destined for other parts of the state and country.

Lyons said the Port has been involved in the recruitment of major industries to the state, including Airbus and ThyssenKrupp, both investing in multimillion-dollar projects in the Mobile area. The former ThyssenKrupp facility is now AM/NS Calvert.

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