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Houston well-positioned for growth after Panama Canal expansion

August 23, 2017

The Port of Houston continues to gain market share at the expense of West Coast ports, as the port's percentage of total U.S. TEU volumes increased from 4.6 percent to 5.2 percent, according to investment management firm JLL. The West Coast still handles 53.8 percent of the total U.S. TEUs, although the gap between each coast's share of total U.S. TEUs has been narrowing for the past 10 years.

After the recent completion of a Panama Canal expansion project, the JLL Port, Airport & Global Infrastructure report expects the expanded Panama Canal to benefit the U.S. Gulf Coast in the near term more than the East Coast. With Gulf port accessibility improving, another factor is driving Houston's impressive growth - petrochemical growth. The decline in oil prices has fueled a boom in petrochemicals, an advantageous shift for Houston as many chemical companies have built new facilities or expanded existing ones in the area. Houston's strong export volume ensures a balanced import/export ratio - a perfect 1.0, according to JLL. Balanced imports and exports are especially atttractive to ocean carriers for efficient management of equipment flowing into and out of a port.

Another market factor for which Houston has prepared is the trend toward larger container vessels. As the Panama Canal expansion neared completion, ocean carriers began ordering larger vessels capable of taking full advantage of the canal's new width and depth. With larger ships set to arrive, East and Gulf Coast ports are scrambling to upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate. The Port of Houston has invested in new, larger cranes and dredging the ship channels to allow for a 45-foot ship draft.

ContainerPort Group (CPG), after a recent expansion into Houston, is seeing the increased port volumes translate into trucking opportunities. CPG's Senior VP - Midwest, Jim Kramer states, “CPG follows the needs of their customers and we have seen a strong increase in demand for drayage in the South. We are proud to extend our company’s service offerings into the Gulf region, and our dedicated team of highly experienced professionals are ready to fulfill this demand.”