The Port of Port St. Joe is attracting interest from potential clients

The Port of Port St. Joe is attracting interest from potential clients.

With Bank of Montreal continuing to “shake the bushes” in the private sector, port staff entertained a possible client, with a potential for at least 100 “high-paying” jobs, in the past two weeks.

Port director Tommy Pitts told the Port Authority board last week that Economic Development Council/Chamber of Commerce director Barry Sellers has brought to the port a project with the potential for providing growth long sought by the Port of Port St. Joe.

The client has requested a confidentiality agreement as negotiations move ahead but Sellers and Pitts provided initial details.

“The only thing we are allowed to say is they are in the business of manufacturing technologically advanced items,” Pitts said.

Pitts said the company would be coming in with a minimum of 110 “well-paying” jobs with a growth potential to expand that number two and three times.

“It’s looking good,” Sellers said. “There is a potential for growth.”

The company is a new one, Pitts said, but Sellers added that the officers in the company have previous experience in the industry and are lining up financing at this point.

“I’ve very excited,” Pitts said. “(Sellers) has been very active.”

Sellers added, “We are getting calls every day.”

Dredging and rail

Jorge Gonzalez, senior vice president for the St. Joe Company, said the company is “getting the process” started with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for dredging of the shipping channel adjacent to the old mill site.

Dredging the channel would provide additional opportunities to grow the port and was seen as an important step in the process by Jeff Holt with the Bank of Montreal during his visit to the port late last year.

Gonzalez added that the Bank of Montreal continues to actively work in the private sector to identify potential clients.

“They continue to shake the bushes,” Gonzalez said. “There is no specific update, but they are very actively identifying potential clients.”

The market analysis by the Bank of Montreal will be incorporated within the port master plan currently being updated, Pitts said.

Pitts said the pace of the update would be picking up in the next few weeks.

A Florida Department of Transportation grant of $5 million has been earmarked for improvements to the Genessee-Wyoming rail line between Port St. Joe and Chattahoochee, Gonzalez said, with the final milestone before the funding is released a joint rail planning agreement.

Gonzalez said that document is close to being executed and said he was confident it would be executed soon.

Rail access and dredging have been identified as keys to unlocking the port’s potential.

The G-W railroad has indicated it will be a 12 month project to improve the lines along the approximately 90-mile stretch. Gonzalez said the northern 40 miles or so are in good shape, but work must be completed on bridges over the span, including that over the Apalachicola River.

“The rail is in great shape, the problem is a couple of bridges,” Gonzalez said.

RESTORE project

The Port Authority submitted by Tuesday’s deadline a pre-proposal to the county RESTORE Committee, seeking $5 million to help satisfy a mortgage, with interest and penalties, held by Capital City Bank on the parcel of port property facing the Intracoastal Canal.

The Port Authority received several million dollars in state and federal grants to improve that property, including constructing a bulkhead and making uplands improvements.

Capital City Bank has filed to foreclose on the property and the Port Authority has responded with a legal response. Capital City Bank is seeking a summary judgment in its favor to force foreclosure, and potentially a sale, on the property but a judicial decision has yet to be made.

The Port Authority provided several options for receiving the money.

“Whatever path that gets us to preserving this as a public asset is the goal,” said board member Patrick Jones. “We need to emphasize the public asset aspect as opposed to this becoming a private asset for who knows what use.”

Workforce needs

Loretta Costin, director of Gulf Coast State College’s Gulf/Franklin campus, said the night welding class created in collaboration with Gulf District Schools has 17 students and the class will begin again in February once that class graduates.

Costin said the college is exploring all possibilities for assisting in addressing workforce needs as tenants begin arriving at the Port of Port St. Joe.

“The welding class is a short-term solution, but we are also looking at more long-term solutions, up to and including renting a facility to bring in more instructors and provide more course options,” Costin said. “We want to be a position to ramp that up when the need arises.”

Gonzalez said workforce development and addressing workforce needs is an issue across the country and having the Gulf/Franklin Center was essential.

“It is a challenge everywhere,” Gonzalez said. “Having partnerships like that is huge, huge.”