The Florida Factor

Bill Johnson has glimpsed the Holy Grail in his own backyard, and he is determined—come hell or deep water—to capture it.

Johnson, the hard-charging director of the Port of Miami, has spent the past five years looking into why so much of the Asian import cargo destined for Florida enters the country through ports outside the state. According to port data, only about 38 percent of Asian import traffic bound for Florida actually enters via the state's ports. About 36 percent enters through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, 13 percent through the Port of Savannah (Ga.), and the remaining 13 percent through various other U.S. ports.

In particular, Johnson has focused on why Savannah, nearly 500 miles to the north, has been such a strong competitor for trans-Pacific cargoes destined for Central and Southern Florida. There are good reasons for Savannah's strength. Though it has a relatively shallow harbor depth of 42 feet, it remains the only East Coast seaport with on-dock rail connections to the two Eastern Class I railroads, CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp.

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