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  • Allen Czermak

Port Of Houston Container Volume At All Time High

The Port of Houston is the largest port in the Gulf Coast and it provides 1.35 million Texans with jobs. The port covers almost 25 miles of shoreline and hosts more than 200 businesses along the 52 mile Houston Ship Channel. The port plays a major role in the Texas economy and had recorded in 2018, $339 billion of direct business revenue, that attested for 20.6% of the state's GDP. Not only does the port have an impact on the local economy but also is the second largest port in the United States that is the mediator for international imports and exports.

In March 2021, the port registered its largest container volume of 297,397 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). To put things into perspective that's a more than 20% increase from March 2020 which was in the height of the pandemic. Port officials were completely overloaded with the influx of containers coming in due to the demand for products in the United States. Many business owners whose stock was depleted from the pandemic had placed orders from overseas and are finally receiving them. It has been quite a wild ride for the logistics industry and the Port of Houston was able to respond even though it had its own challenge because of worker shortages.

History Of The Houston Ship Channel

Port Houston was not the first shipping port along the Houston Ship Channel. In 1836, the Allen brothers, Augustus Chapman and John Kirby recognized that the Buffalo Bayou would be able to be used as a means to transport goods in and out of Houston. Until they came to the scene the Buffalo Bayou was a muddy swamp that couldn't handle bigger boats let alone ships. Being from New York and having an entrepreneur spirit, the brothers envisioned a major water way and a great investment for commerce. The Buffalo Bayou was deepened and expanded and became a waterway to steam boats and other large vessels at the time, that lead right into the heart of Houston. Today, the Buffalo Bayou flows out into the Houston Shipping Channel allowing ships an easy exit into the Gulf of Mexico. Using this water artery would mean more jobs for Texans during a period of time when the oil was still untapped.

On October 9, 1866, the Houston Direct Navigation Company was incorporated which would address the need to improve the Buffalo Bayou as a route for bigger ships rather than just water ferries. From January 1,1869 through September 30, 1881, the company transported through the Buffalo Bayou, 1,985,806 bales of cotton. That was a major feat at the time and helped grow the Texas economy. It was not until 1869 that the Buffalo Bayou Ship Company was organized with its sole purpose being to maintain the ship channel. The company would be responsible for deepening, straightening, and widening the water channel to be suitable for steamboats of all sizes.

By 1915, The Southern Steamship Company was already sailing two vessels per week between Houston and Philadelphia. Each ship held a cargo of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 tons and was a reliable means of transport from the East Coast to the Midwest United States. The service was fast and reliable for both passengers and businesses that used it as a method of transportation. Just as the state was supposed to undergo a major expansion, World War I broke out and all was put on hold. In 1948, just after World War II was over, the Port of Houston was born. The Houston Shipping Channel was deepened to 36 feet and it was a vital element to Texas growth in the petrochemical industry.

Economic Impact of Hosting World Trade

The Houston Ship Channel is one of the narrowest and busiest water channels in the world. Every year tens of thousands of vessels pass through these waters making Texas an important piece of the global economy. The Houston Ship Channel needed to be deepened, straightened, and widened in order to play host to these behemoth sized ships. Naturally, all of this trade generated a business boom and jobs to Harris County. In 2018, Port Houston produced 1,350,695 jobs, $339.0 billion of economic value, and $5.7 billion in local income tax. In order for it to operate efficiently it is currently maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The fact that the Federal Government maintains the channel helps ease the financial burden on the local residents of Harris County. The Port of Houston does not just bring economic prosperity to Texas but rather to the whole entire United States and the government recognizes that by caring for the water channel.

The Logical & Logistical Shipping Point

In its early days, cotton was the economic driver for Houston and many plantation owners would need to ship the goods in and out of Houston. In order for the local economy to prosper, cotton owners would need to figure out how to export the fibers to other continents around the world. By 1850 a railway was built that connected Houston and Galveston. It was not before long that other rail lines began to connect to Houston making it the main rail hub in Texas. Prior to the Port of Houston, the main shipping hub was centered around Galveston Island that was shadowed by the Gulf of Mexico. However, by 1873 Houston was handling 73% of all commerce in the cotton industry. From that point onward the focus was to make the water way deeper and wider to handle larger vessels.

Today, the Port of Houston is an intermodal shipping hub that is accessible via ship, truck, and rail. Texas is an important logistic point for the Midwest and Heartland United States that does not have access to major water ports that can host big container ships. These businesses will hire one of the many reliable intermodal trucking companies to transport the containers received at the Port of Houston inland. Without the expansion of the Houston Shipping Channel it might take many more weeks for a truck or train to ship a cargo container to the Midwest and Heartland United States. Just think about it for a second, a trailer chassis or a freight car can hold at most two shipping containers while a large water vessel can hold almost 24,000. Having the containers closer to inland will not only get the products to you faster but will be far more economical as well.

The Primary Export State In The United States

The Port of Houston is more than just a single water port that receives ships from around the globe. It has three main centers of operation, the original ship channel and turning basin area, the Barbours Cut Terminal, and the Bayport Container Terminal. Each facility can easily be reached by ship, rail, and truck making it a vital logistics point for imports and exports. Besides for the large water vessels reaching these water ports, over 200,000 barges go up and down the water channel each bringing goods farther inland. This makes it possible for smaller water ports up the Buffalo Bayou to handle the goods by either unloading from the barge onto trucks or trains.

The Barbours Cut Container Terminal

Prior to shipping containers overseas, cargo was usually handled by unloading and loading each individual piece. Sometimes wheelbarrows were used but more often than not it was human man power that cost shippers a lot in labor. At the same time, it could take weeks before a ship was fully unloaded. In 1956, the first shipping container was moved from New Jersey to Houston that introduced containerization to the shipping industry. Seeing it as a way to speed up the loading and unloading and possibly losing a stronghold as one of the largest water ports in the USA, the Barbours Cut Container Terminal was opened in 1977. The facility was especially designed for container ships being at the forefront of containerization. It was situated closer to the Gulf of Mexico, making it easier for large container ships to be in and out of the port quickly. The hard working labor men were now replaced with automated loading systems and crane operators that were more cost effective for shipping lines. These savings were passed along and made shipping more economical for all types of businesses.

Final Words

Today, the Port of Houston is one of the biggest shipping ports in the United States and is an essential part of the Texas economy. The Lone Star State is becoming very popular recently due to its no income tax policy. Many people in the United States are fed up with the amount of tax they have to pay in blue states and are beginning to migrate to states like Texas. Its projects like the Port of Houston that sustain the state, relieve the tax burden on its local residents. Citizens around the USA both Democrat and Republican wish for such an economic infrastructure like the State of Texas.



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