By Michael Tomberlin
Alabama NewsCenter

The Alabama State Port Authority is one of the largest economic engines for the state and wants to build on its $22.4 billion economic impact.

The 4,000 acres that make up the state docks have multiple complexes that handle everything from auto parts to coal and from poultry to pine.

But the port could be doing more, according to Jimmy Lyons, director and CEO of the Port Authority.

Alabama port moving forward with growth plans from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We’ve got a couple of exciting projects going on right now,” Lyons said. “We’re in the midst of doing a second expansion to our container terminal, actually our third phase. We finished phase two last year and realized that’s not enough, so we’re going to phase three right away. We’re on schedule to have that work all completed by the end of ’19.”

The start of 2019 should see construction begin on a new $60 million automobile roll-on, roll-off terminal, a major move to support automotive logistics in a state where automotive manufacturing is a major industry.

Another major event will take place Aug. 14 when Walmart officially opens its $135 million import distribution center in Mobile. In addition to creating 550 full-time jobs, that 2.5 million-square-foot facility will generate something the port desperately needs: empty shipping containers.

Lyons told the Economic Development Association of Alabama at its 2018 Summer Conference last week that the state struggles to find enough shipping containers to meet the demand. With Walmart bringing in 50,000 containers per year when fully operational, that will help provide more empty cargo containers for exporters. That will reduce costs for exporters who pay to bring in empty containers; it will also help Alabama’s port retain business that now goes to other ports when containers aren’t available, Lyons said.

Shipping containers are driving a big part of the Alabama State Port Authority import and export business. (Mike Kittrell / Alabama NewsCenter)

The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking comments now on a $388 million plan to enlarge the port’s Mobile Ship Channel. A deeper and wider channel will clear the way for the port to accommodate larger ships that are already starting to come through the expanded Panama Canal, Lyons said. A deeper channel also allows ships to carry more weight, making the port more efficient for importers and exporters, he said.

Plans for a deeper and wider channel would allow for the larger ships to carry greater loads in and out of the port. (Army Corps of Engineers)

According to an economic impact study from the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the port is responsible for 134,608 direct and indirect jobs in the state with a direct and indirect tax impact of $486.9 million.

In 2017, the port handled 28.7 million tons of goods and 318,889 shipping containers.

The Alabama State Port Authority carries out a variety of operations. (Alabama State Port Authority)