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Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership
Harris County International Trade & Transportation Conference
by Jim Guidry
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Fourth Annual Harris County International Trade & Transportation Conference was held today in Houston.  The meeting was titled, “The Gateway of North America.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett welcomed the participants and introduced Curtis Spencer, president of IMS Worldwide, Inc., who was the keynote speaker at the morning session. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

“We are perfectly positioned to be the Gateway of North America,” Emmett said.  “As ships get larger, as trade comes more from India, Brazil and Africa, and as the Panama Canal expands, all you have to do is look at the Texas Gulf Coast and where it sits on the map, where it sits on the globe – we’re It.”

Emmett urged all of the ports on the Gulf Coast to improve their infrastructure to position themselves for the global markets.

“Yes, I do love the Port of Houston, but when I think of ‘gateway’, I’m thinking all the ports on the Gulf Coast, from Beaumont all the way down to Brownsville,” Emmett said. “The Texas Gulf Coast, and frankly, even the inland ports.”

Spencer’s address was titled, “What makes Harris Count/the Texas Gulf Coast/the Gateway of North America?”  Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

Spencer listed several advantages on the Texas Gulf Coast, including good labor relations.

“The Gulf Coast has the best ILA trade relationship in the country,” Spencer said.

He said Houston is also important as an inland port.

“Dallas thinks they are a big inland port, but Houston is just as big an inland port,” he said.  “We have three intermodal terminals here!  UP, two of them; KCS is a small one; and BNSF is a large one.  So we’ve got three intermodal terminals, three rail terminals that bring containers in from the ports.”

He said the Panama Canal project will have a major impact on the region, but he urged the people in the room to not wait for the project’s completion.

“Our zone of influence for bulk (cargo) is a big zone of influence – we are a big bulk shipping port – number one in the country,” Spencer said.  “But in containers we are a much smaller zone of influence.”

Spencer said the Texas Gulf Coast may be positioning itself for increased traffic from the expanded Panama Canal better than other areas.

“Everybody wants to be the 2014 open window, right?” he asked.  “You guys read in the news about Savannah and Charleston fighting with each other; and the governor of South Carolina won’t approve the dredging for Georgia.  It’s nuts!  We don’t have that here.  That’s a good thing.”

The Harris County Trade & Transportation Conference was held at the InterContinental Hotel.

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