New container terminals for Asian shipping lines will transform the Northside much like the Wal-Mart Distribution Center has changed Baker County, but on an even larger scale.
Wal-Mart's $49 million, 900,000-square-foot distribution center has brought 1,000 jobs and boosted Baker County's property tax base and economy, moving it beyond its rural roots.
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd.'s $220 million terminal at Dames Point and Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd.'s $230 million terminal nearby will anchor what could eventually become one of Northeast Florida's most prosperous residential and commercial hubs.
The new container terminals will bring thousands of jobs, and thus residents. This will spur significant housing sales, thereby speeding the local housing market's recovery.
The shipping lines also will spawn a litany of service industries, such as health-care providers and law firms. Office and retail space will be abundant, particularly around State Road 9A and Heckscher Drive.
Warehouses also should flourish. There is a dearth of quality industrial space in the region and increased shipping activity will only exacerbate the shortage. Developers are rushing to fill the void and the frenzy will only build.
Business should swell for companies that make shipping products, like Buffers USA. If they can't capitalize to the extent they should, our community will miss valuable opportunities to add jobs and secure significant capital investments.
We must ramp up our work force training and job development programs to meet the demand for workers that is mounting.
We also must fast-track the infrastructure needed to support the terminals for the Asian shipping companies.
The Jacksonville Port Authority has wisely moved up the construction of a turning basin in the St. Johns River so that the bigger ships that will come can maneuver more easily. It also is working on plans to elevate a portion of Heckscher Drive to facilitate the moving of cargo. State and federal officials should help speed similar projects in whatever ways are needed.
If the public and private sector work together, we will celebrate the terminals' arrival much as we now do Wal-Mart's commitment to Baker County. Only the stories should be even better.
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Revised: February 10, 2010 .
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