Having exercised from the broad strokes marketing efforts to grow the Port of Port St. Joe, the St. Joe Company is going surgical.
St. Joe senior vice president Jorge Gonzalez told members of the Port St. Joe Port Authority last week that the company had engaged the Bank of Montreal to assist in the marketing efforts.
Gonzalez noted that a collaboration agreement signed early this year between St. Joe and the Port Authority anticipated bringing other parties into the port development mix and said the Bank of Montreal had some of the “top infrastructure folks” in North America.
“They are really plugged in to ports and logistics,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said the marketing effort had reached a point where a third party was needed. A new port brochure has been created and provided a foundation for a newly-launched website promoting the opportunities at the Port of Port St. Joe, the last of Florida’s 14 deepwater ports to be developed.
Gonzalez noted the efforts to create more of a profile and engagement at the state level and said the broad marketing strategies were largely in place.
“This is a more surgical look at potential clients,” Gonzalez said of the Bank of Montreal. “This is playing offense for the port. They are selective about the projects they undertake. They are optimistic about the business potential at the Port of Port St. Joe, but the devil is in the details.
“They will be telling a story, not in a broad-based marketing way, but in a surgical, focused approach.”
In addition to providing an equity side to the equation, Gonzalez said, the Bank of Montreal also brings expertise in infrastructure needs and matching clients to infrastructure.
“Their preference is to make the economics work,” Gonzalez said. “They are very well-rounded.”
Gonzalez also emphasized that the Bank of Montreal would be looking at the entire port infrastructure, not just St. Joe Company lands such as the mill site and deepwater bulkhead, but also Port Authority lands, including the old Arizona Chemical site.
The goal, Gonzalez has emphasized for months, is to market the entire acreage between St. Joe and Port Authority combined, some 300 acres with rail, natural gas wells, water resources and a barge bulkhead.
“The story has to be framed more broadly than just St. Joe land or Port Authority land,” Gonzalez said. “We are excited. These folks are really selective. We are really excited to have been able to engage them.”
Port Authority board member Patrick Jones added, “It is excellent new, very exciting.”
Eastern Shipbuilding, Gonzalez said, remains on target, though the exact date of arrival was not known.
Lisa Barnes, project manager for special projects with Eastern, said that the company plans to begin work in Gulf County in February.
“Eastern Shipbuilding Group has leased production space in Port St. Joe at the former paper mill site. We anticipate opening that site for production in February of 2013. We plan to do outfitting on our vessels at the Port St. Joe facility,” Barnes said.
In clarifying some confusion about the current hiring being done by Eastern in Gulf County, Franklin County and elsewhere, Barnes emphasized the company was not yet hiring for the Port St. Joe facility.
“Currently Eastern has numerous job openings at its Bay County facilities. These positions are the jobs we are looking to fill immediately. We will be filling Port St. Joe positions as they become available. These are primarily skilled craftsman jobs, i.e. welders, pipefitters, pipe welders, and ship fitters,” Barnes said.
She said recruiting efforts in Franklin and Gulf counties have gone well. Representatives from Eastern are the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce offices on Marina Drive every Tuesday and Thursday.
“We received about 80 applications during the resource fair recently sponsored by the Workforce Board in Eastpoint,” Barnes said. “We have also received applications from Port St. Joe recruiting. Hopefully we can assist some of these hard workers with stable employment opportunities at our Bay County shipyards.”
Barnes noted that Eastern has training classes for welding, pipefitting, and shipfitting, and run continuous classes for these skills. The classes are held at the company’s Allanton facility and pay $10 an hour while students are training.
“We have a good partnership with the Gulf Coast Workforce Board and we are working diligently with them to find qualified employees,” Barnes said. “The Workforce Board is also exploring options for transportation to Panama City for Gulf County and Franklin County residents.”
Port Authority members last week also discussed the Capital City Loan of more than $4 million that looms, with the bank having formally filed foreclosure papers on the port land where the barge bulkhead is situated.
Port attorney Tom Gibson, who said the filing was expected, said his attempts to line up an attorney to defend the foreclosure – Gibson can not represent the port due to conflict and Mel Magidson declined an approach by Gibson – have yet to be successful.
He would continue to explore options, but emphasized the Port Authority did not want to default due to a lack of response and said an extension had been granted through Oct. 15 to answer the filing by Capital City Bank.
The risk for the Port Authority in the litigation, Gibson noted, would be losing the land on which the barge bulkhead sits and, if the value of any sale of that land did not reach the amount of the loan, might see a partial lien on the currently unencumbered Arizona Chemical property.
“We have a major piece of infrastructure under threat of being taken from the public use by a bank,” Jones said. “I would not want to lose that bulkhead. Ports are different in that the logistics are driven by infrastructure. The infrastructure is why they come.”
One suggestion offered by board members would be to approach the RESTORE Act committee about a proposal for the county to establish some form of economic development revolving fund with some of the BP fine money the county might see.
That fund could assist the port with the Capital City Bank loan, with the Port Authority paying back the money has clients arrive and business picks up.
While indications from the bank are it does not want possession of the land, and Port Authority members want to pay down the loan, but how that process unfolds remains an open question.
“Everybody wants the same thing, it is a matter of how we get there,” Jones said.
The Port Authority board elected new officers. Leonard Costin is the new chairman for a two-year term, with Eugene Raffield taking over as vice-chair, Jones as secretary and Jessica Rish as treasurer. Johanna White, the past chair, is the fifth member of the board.