MIAMI – Port of Miami officials are counting down the days until the widened Panama Canal is finished and super-sized freighters head their way.
Area shipping and warehouse companies are also preparing for the expected business boom.
Dan Marcus of Flagler Development watched work crews put the finishing touches on 170,000 square-feet of warehouse and distribution space.
"We're very bullish on the Florida economy with all the new investment in infrastructure, especially at Port of Miami," Marcus said.
The port tunnel, a deeper channel, an expanded free-trade zone, and a wider Panama Canal will allow bigger ships with more goods on them to dock at the port. Miami is the closest deepwater port to the Panama Canal, and logistics experts say getting merchandise into the port quickly saves time and money.
"When we can bring it in at a lower cost, quicker turnaround time for the importer, it reduces their overhead cost so it reduces the cost for consumption," said Barbara Pimentel of Florida Customs Brokers.
"The growth of international traffic will be significant, in fact, multiplying itself over the next decade," said The Beacon Council's Stephen Beatus.
In order to handle the increased amount of goods coming in on those big ships, the port refurbished an old railroad line to get the cargo out quicker. The tracks lead to the South Florida Logistic Center, a massive, state-of-the-art warehouse complex in Hialeah. The seven-building complex will eventually have 2 million square feet of warehouse and office space.
"This South Florida Logistic Center really offers something unique to companies, allows them to save money, increase their bottom line and grow their business faster," Marcus said.
Not far away, an old Winn Dixie grocery warehouse will be re-purposed. New owners are spending close to $40 million on the project.
"We are actually seeing a lot of new companies come to our market looking for bigger warehouses, more efficient warehouses," said Edward Redlich of ComReal Miami. "In the recession, our vacancy rate was about 12 percent. We're down to 7 percent."
Industrial real estate experts say 2 million square feet of new warehouse space will be added in 2013 and another 2 million in 2014, much of that for refrigerated storage. They say each 1 million square feet of additional space means about 1,000 new jobs.
The dredging project at the Port of Miami is expected to begin in August.