GBC’s Fry: Port deal signals new generation of public-private partnerships

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

This signals a new determination by Governor O’Malley and transportation officials to develop creative ways to access private-sector financial resources for government-owned infrastructure.

The public-private partnership will bring about the substantial upgrade needed at Seagirt so that Baltimore’s port can serve a new generation of larger and wider container ships expected at east coast ports beginning in 2014. 

Ports America will invest more than $450 million to build a 50-foot deep berth at Seagirt, install new container cranes, and make other improvements to serve the new super ships. Without these investments, the port could conceivably be out of the container business – a significant potential loss for Baltimore’s port, which employs 16,000 workers, and for Maryland’s economy.

Ports America will also pay the state $100 million in cash to fund highway, bridge and tunnel projects. The company will retain Seagirt’s revenue during the lease. The partnership is expected to generate $15.7 million a year in state and local tax revenue.

The new, improved Seagirt will generate an estimated 2,700 permanent port-related jobs, 1,000 construction jobs to build the 50-foot berth, and 1,000 construction jobs for highway improvements. That’s almost 5,000 jobs that would not be possible if the state had to rely on its own current funding resources.

This agreement is an example of a new generation of teamwork to deploy private capital for critical state infrastructure improvements, enabling government to seize opportunities for economic growth and job creation. 

It strikes a fair balance between the public mission and private entrepreneurship, creating a “win-win-win” for government, business partners, and taxpayers. And it appears to confirm that partnerships with the private sector can be viable options for overcoming government fiscal and infrastructure challenges that inhibit Maryland’s ability to be competitive. 

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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