If you’ve been following the Port of Galveston in the news, you know that we reached a record $43.5 million in gross operating revenues in 2018. That gave us net revenues of $8 million after expenses.
There’s no magic to how we did it. Since I became port director in early 2018, we’ve focused on maximizing assets to generate revenue and reducing expenses to boost the bottom line.
This is more than responsible fiscal management. It allows us to fund port improvements critical to the port’s future and, thus, a healthy local economy. Owned by the city, the port is a self-sustaining enterprise that operates without funding from city property taxes.
A plan to fix crumbling piers
Galveston Wharves is the oldest port west of the Mississippi, and frankly, folks, it shows in the state of some of our infrastructure.
A condition assessment of waterfront infrastructure, done as part of our 20-year Strategic Master Plan, is helping us prioritize a long repair list. For example, three of our concrete piers in high-priority areas are deteriorated and need substantial repairs or complete rebuild.
It’s not surprising since some were built before World War II. Until recently, the port hasn’t had the cash reserves to consider long-delayed repairs and improvements.
While we’re doing well now, that hasn’t always been the case. Since the city took ownership of the port in 1940, there have been 26 years when the port operated in the red or had razor-thin profits of 1 percent or less.
Investing for the future
With increased income, mainly from our cruise and cargo businesses, the port finally sees an opportunity to invest in improvements to build its business to create more jobs and to help strengthen Galveston’s economy. The plan outlines about $600 million in projects that include the following:
- Repair infrastructure
- Build an interior road to alleviate traffic on Harborside
- Build cruise parking garages on existing port property
- Expand the West Port to accommodate more cargo business
The maritime business is extremely challenging. Our profits are influenced by a number of factors beyond our control, including natural disasters, international trade policies and market changes.
Cotton was king in the early 1900s, but not today. Grain was big for decades but is down for us now. The port is benefiting from the state’s booming wind energy industry, but eventually that growth will slow.
We must be competitive, nimble and forward-thinking to be ready to capture new business as opportunities arise. We also must have cash reserves to weather a natural disaster or business downturn.
To implement our Strategic Master Plan, we must be financially strong to borrow money to fund large capital projects.
If managed properly, the port is a powerful economic engine for the community. It’s critical that we invest our profits in improvements to provide local jobs, spend with local businesses and remain competitive.
Rodger Rees is Port of Galveston port director and chief executive officer.