No wonder Port of Port St. Joe officials wish to be part of the club.

No wonder Port of Port St. Joe officials wish to be part of the club.

Florida ports added 200,000 new jobs since 2012 and were responsible for $117.6 billion in economic activity last year, according to a report issued by the Florida Ports Council.

As Port St. Joe Port Authority officials, joined by private and public partners, pushed to develop the Port of Port St. Joe, as barge shipments increased out of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Florida Ports Council report underscored the stakes.

It also served to underscore a long-held belief of economic development officials is that regional economic development in large measure hinges on unlocking the Port of Port St. Joe.

Jim Townsend of Townsend Marine, which has moved two large barge shipments of oyster shells the past nine months, said the Port of Port St. Joe is positioned, geographically and topographically, to take off once all the necessary infrastructure is in place.

And Townsend believes the infrastructure is nearly in place.

“Before I am room temperature there will be an operating port here,” Townsend said.

For example, the port is the closest Florida port to the expanded Panama Canal.

The Intracoastal Waterway, in addition to the federally-authorized shipping channel, provides pathways to markets across the Southeast and Midwest.

The Gulf County Economic Development Coalition is undertaking, with the aid of a state grant, an exercise to examine economic links among a four-county region from Gulf to Gadsden.

The key links: the Port of Port St. Joe, the Apalachicola airport and I-10.

And as port officials push for state funding for dredge and rail work to open up the port, and as the Port Authority and St. Joe Company finalize deals to lease land to a wood chip shipper in the port planning area, city of Port St. Joe officials are pushing on another front.

City officials are forwarding a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure maintenance dredging of the Gulf County Canal, which is authorized at 12 feet.

Townsend Marine’s two shipments in 2016 revealed the canal is not uniformly at 12 feet.

“I really believe we are going to see good jobs and soon,” said Port St. Joe Mayor Bo Patterson.

The Florida Ports Council report said the 15 active state seaports support nearly 900,000 jobs, $40 billion in personal income and $4.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Gov. Rick Scott, in a statement, noted that Florida is competing in an international economy, adding that “no state can match the combination of Florida’s transportation infrastructure, business-friendly environment and location.”

“Our seaports are not only a major economic engine for job creation in Florida, but they also help strengthen Florida’s position as the gateway to Latin America.”

Since 2011, the state has invested more than $1 billion in to Florida’s port system, with an additional $3.7 billion in state, local and private funding planned for port activity in the next five years.

Port St. Joe Port Authority officials are hopeful that figures includes money for dredging the shipping channel as well as funding to rehab Genessee Wyoming rail lines that connect the port to points north.

According to the Florida Ports Council report, port projects produce a return on investment of nearly $7 in state and local tax revenue for every $1 of investment.

“The leadership and foresight of Gov. (Rick) Scott and the Florida Legislature to invest in Florida’s seaports has led to immediate and long-term gains,” said Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council.

“The state of Florida’s seaports is strong, and our role in international trade as the Gateway to the Americas continues to grow stronger.”