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Posted on: January 16, 2024

2023 Port Performance Exceeds Expectations

By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO

A year ago, I wrote in my column that I was strongly optimistic about 2023. Reflecting on last year’s priorities, I’m happy to report that the port’s performance far exceeded expectations. 

It’s all thanks to the leadership of our Galveston Wharves Board of Trustees, strong relationships with our port partners and the dedication and hard work of our port staff.

Our focus for 2023 included the following:

  • Growing our cruise business
  • Securing state and federal funding for port improvements
  • Completing Cruise Terminal 25 renovations 
  • Increasing port-related jobs
  • Continuing community outreach
  • Improving port infrastructure

New Cruise Records

You read it here first! We achieved 42 percent cruise passenger growth last year as compared to 2022. We welcomed 1.49 million passengers based on a total of 2.98 million passenger embarkations and debarkations. We also set a record of 354 cruise ship sailings.

These records were driven by the opening of a third cruise terminal, a strong national cruise industry, Galveston’s growing popularity as a cruise home port, and more and larger ships homeporting here.

With arrival of the new, larger Carnival Jubilee and more seasonal sailings by other cruise lines, we expect continued growth in 2024.

Jobs Growth

Cruise growth also fuels jobs growth on the waterfront. This, along with our growing roll-on/roll-off cargo business, contributed to 657,180 total labor hours in 2023. 

This is the highest number of labor hours in recent years and a 7 percent increase over 2022. These hours equate to approximately 316 full-time jobs, helping to make the maritime industry a major employer for our region. 

Historic Grant Awards

Years of focus on pursuing more grants to fund capital projects yielded historic results last year. We were awarded $42.3 million in state grants for cargo and transportation infrastructure projects, a $1 million state grant to pilot a shore power microgrid to power docked cargo ships, and $340,000 for a federally funded study to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety in and around the port.

Four things contributed to our success in bringing these state and federal dollars to Galveston.

  • A multi-year commitment to seek grants
  • Strong relationships with state and federal leaders
  • Clearly defined infrastructure improvement plans and shovel-ready projects
  • Port cash reserves to readily provide mandatory local matches

As you’ve heard me say before, as a self-sustaining city entity receiving no city funds, we rely on our income, grants and revenue bonds to make major port improvements.

Cruise Terminal 25 Renovation

Speaking of bonds, we issued $50 million in revenue bonds which yielded $52.6 million to the port for a $53 million renovation of our oldest cruise terminal. Done in partnership with Carnival Cruise Line, the top-to-bottom improvements expedite passenger embarkation and debarkation, meet federal requirements for U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at the terminal, and prepare the terminal for larger ships like the Carnival Jubilee, which sailed on her inaugural cruise Dec. 23 carrying 6,200 passengers for the Christmas holiday.

In my next column I’ll look ahead to what should shape up to be another remarkable year. Announcements about the proposed fourth cruise terminal, a groundbreaking for a $50.1 million cargo expansion project, and preparations for the port’s 200th birthday in 2025 are just a few highlights. We want to thank those who attended our open house on planned capital projects on Dec. 19. We received overwhelming support from the public on the direction of the port. 

 

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