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By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves Port Director & CEO
As we begin a new year, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the highlights of 2022. For the port, it was a year of major accomplishments and growth. I’m incredibly proud of my dedicated staff, visionary Wharves Board and committed port partners. Their hard work and belief in this port helped us achieve the following:
Cruising to Record Growth
In November we celebrated the opening of the beautiful, state-of-the-art RCI cruise terminal. Opening a third cruise terminal allows us to greatly expand our cruise business, as well as port-related jobs and revenues. In December the port and MSC Cruises announced negotiations to develop a fourth cruise terminal at piers 16-18 through a public-private partnership.
On Dec. 22 we celebrated our 1 millionth cruise passenger of the year, a major milestone demonstrating that the Galveston cruise business has recovered from the 15-month suspension that ended in July 2021. This is the first time we’ve exceeded 1 million cruise passengers since 2019.
Never has the port, in its 22-year history as a cruise port, seen such strong interest by cruise passengers and the cruise industry. With the addition of newer and larger ships and more diverse offerings, the port is more popular than ever.
Funding Growth and Improvements
As a citizen-owned port with no taxing authority, we fund capital improvements, as well as long-deferred waterfront maintenance, in three ways – self-generated revenues, grants and public-private partnerships.
The RCI terminal is an example of a successful partnership. The port used $22 million in cash reserves to fund its portion of infrastructure improvements, while our private partners contributed the lion’s share.
The port also was awarded $1.3 million in grants for security and safety improvements and $2 million in state funds for infrastructure projects. In addition, the federal government awarded $16 million for a ship channel extension and $25 million for maintenance work to bring our port to its federally permitted deep-water depths.
Port of Everything
We’re unique among U.S. ports in that we have a diversified business with cruise, cargo, lay and commercial sectors. It's why we call ourselves the “Port of Everything”. Our cargo and lay ship businesses don’t generate the same level of revenues as cruise, but they demonstrated their worth during the pandemic. Cargo and lay revenues ensured the port’s economic survival during the15-month cruise industry suspension.
This year, cruise was king while our diversified cargo business was impacted by geopolitics, the economy, private business decisions and many other factors beyond our control. This year our cargo tonnage will be down about 20 percent, but we expect our wind energy cargo business to pick up now that Congress has reinstated tax credits.
Even with those fluctuations, union labor work hours at the port are forecast to be more than 600,000 for 2022, near the pre-COVID number of 631,000 in 2019.
Wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2023 from everyone at the port.