Tourism & Cruises

PortMiami’s local impact has grown — but top line numbers don’t tell the whole story

The Mol Majesty, the first big ship to transit the expanded Panama Canal, arrived to Miami on Saturday, July 9, 2016 at PortMiami.
The Mol Majesty, the first big ship to transit the expanded Panama Canal, arrived to Miami on Saturday, July 9, 2016 at PortMiami.

A PortMiami-commissioned study released Monday shows ongoing growth in the port’s local economic impact.

The study by Pennsylvania-based firm Martin Associates cost the port $81,000 and updates a similar study produced by the same firm in 2012.

According to the report, about 324,300 jobs were supported by the port in 2016. Last year, the port’s total economic impact was $41.4 billion; it generated $1.5 billion in local taxes, Martin Associates found.

But those numbers, touted by the county, don’t tell the whole story.

While the jobs and revenue reflect the port’s sphere of influence, most of the impact cited by the study comes from “related” or “user” jobs, income, output and taxes. This is impact generated by exporters and importers that may ship some of their products through PortMiami to their eventual destination but would still exist if those goods were shipped through another regional port.

For instance, if grapefruit grown in Indian County weren’t being shipped through PortMiami, it would be shipped through another port, “albeit at an increase in logistics costs,” the study said.

So why are those jobs part of the impact report?

“It is important to demonstrate how important the port is to those exporters and importers,” said John Martin, president of Martin Associates. The metric is used in all of the more than 500 reports the firm has conducted as a way to compare the ports’ places in the overall cargo industry, he said.

Still, the numbers are being presented by the county as indicative of the port’s local impact — figures that at first glance may be misleading.

Previously, a 2014 Politifact story found that the user and related impacts in the port’s previous economic study in 2012, done by the same firm, were being used to paint a false picture.

Here is how the report’s findings break down:

▪ PortMiami contributed to nearly 45,000 direct, induced and indirect jobs in 2016 — up 12 percent in 2012, when that same measure found 40,048 jobs.

The remaining 279,300 jobs cited in the study — or 86 percent of the total — were user jobs, up from 111,629 in 2012.

▪ PortMiami generated $7.4 billion in economic impact from business service revenue and re-spending and consumption in 2016, up about 18 percent from about $6.1 billion in 2012.

The residual impact measured from exporters and importers that tangentially do business with the port totaled $34 billion, accounting for about 82 percent of the port’s total economic impact of $41.4 billion, according to Martin Associates.

▪ The port contributed about $288.3 million in direct, induced and indirect state and local taxes in 2016. That’s a slight increase from 2012 of about $56,560.

About 80 percent of the total taxes the port generated, or $1.2 billion, are related to exporters and importers that support port activity. That figure has increased by about $670 million since 2012.

Regardless of how the numbers are counted, there’s no question the port has continued to grow.

In 2016, PortMiami hit a cruise passenger world record with 5.1 million travelers, an increase of about 1.4 million passengers since 2012. On the cargo side, the port handled 8.9 million tons of cargo. That’s up by about 1 million tons of containerized cargo since 2012.

The port recently finalized a $1 billion infrastructure development that created the PortMiami tunnel between the terminals and Interstates 395 and 95, modernized the dock rail and added new cranes that can handle larger cargo ships. The port was also dredged 50 feet along the main terminal to accommodate larger cargo ships now sailing through the widened Panama Canal.

“The investments Miami-Dade County has made in PortMimi have benefited our community for years to come,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez in a statement. “Without the commitment we have made, PortMiami would not be known as the cruise capital of the world, or be one of the three seaports in the eastern United States that is ‘Big Ship Ready.’”

Last summer, the county signed an agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises to build a new terminal at PortMiami that could accommodate the Miami-based cruise company’s mega ships. The $247 million project is expected to create $500 million in annual economic impact.

This story has been updated to correct previous errors in this story. The number of direct, induced and indirect jobs grew 12 percent from 2012, when jobs numbered 40,048, to 2016. Related jobs increased by 111,629 from 2016 to 2012. Business service revenue and re-spending and consumption was up about 18 percent from about $6.1 billion in 2012. User taxes grew by $670 million over 2012. The Miami Herald regrets the errors.