By J. Robert Bray, The Virginian-Pilot
The Port of Virginia, quite possibly, had the most important day in its history on Sept. 21. On that day, the governor and the leadership of the port signed a new lease agreement for Virginia International Gateway and in doing so set this one-of-a-kind, state-owned maritime asset on a path to be the leading venue for trade on the East Coast.
The news, however, was lost in the pages of The Pilot. That’s too bad, given the importance of the moment and what this means for the commonwealth’s economy for decades to come.
A growing port means jobs and not just in Hampton Roads, but across this state. It is estimated that this lease agreement will generate 166,000 new jobs in Virginia, in addition to the 375,000 jobs the port already generates. Moreover, the lease will spur an estimated $22 billion in spending and result in $630-plus million in state and local taxes. Those estimates would be on top of the billions the port and its related industries and jobs already generate for the state.
This new lease agreement clears the way for developing the second phase at Virginia International Gateway. Combine that project with the renovation of Norfolk International Terminals’ South Berth, and by 2020 we will have the capacity to handle more than 1 million additional containers annually. These projects keep us competitive with our East Coast peers and give the big ocean carriers the assurance that we will have the capacity and facilities to handle their ships for years to come.
Most importantly, these strategic investments provide ample time to develop the fourth state-owned marine terminal at Craney Island.
The table is now set for growth at the Port of Virginia, and when this growth phase reaches its limit – and it will as the ships get bigger and we continue to consume – we will be prepared for the next phase, at Craney Island. The state’s investment of today is creating the necessary capacity buffer for reaching tomorrow without a panic. That is why it is called strategic growth.
In 10 years or so, when that tomorrow comes, we will be having a similar discussion about the positive economic benefits – job creation, new tax revenue and investment – that Craney Island Marine Terminal will have throughout the commonwealth.
For nearly 30 years I was fortunate enough to lead the Port of Virginia. During that time, our effort was to grow the port and do our best to look forward and see what was needed for it to become truly great.
Our work resulted in an expanded and modernized Norfolk International Terminals, channels that today are 50 feet deep, the rail corridor in the median of 164 in Portsmouth and the start of the federal funding to begin the long-term project of developing Craney Island.
The team that led the port during that period is proud of those accomplishments, but the VIG news outweighs that work because the path to the future is now clear, and all of the pieces are in place.
No other port on the East Coast has the natural or manmade assets the Port of Virginia does, and no other port has the opportunity to expand and help drive their state’s economy like we do here.