The Future of Philadelphia Port: The World's Next Energy Hub?

Maria Johansson, for GPA -- 300 years ago, shortly after William Penn’s ship “The Welcome” arrived on the Delaware River, the port of Philadelphia was established. It became the country's leading trade hub and remained so for over 100 years.

Today, it is the fourth largest port in the country and contributes $7.8 billion in wages and salaries per year to the Philadelphia area, while connecting our country with trade routes across the entire globe.

At the annual Philadelphia Port Authority luncheon hosted by the World Trade Association of Philadelphia on November 7th, guests were given an overview of the Greater Philadelphia Port Complex and key national and maritime issues from the past year. They were also given a glimpse into the future, delivered by keynote speaker Commissioner William P. Doyle of the Federal Maritime Commission and guest speaker Dennis Rochford, President of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay.

Since 1994, Rothford has enjoyed “the closest thing to a lifetime appointment you can get” and has been able to see the port of Philadelphia grow. He reported that although the port took a hit in the wake of the recession, shrinking from 2,500 vessels a year before the recession to 1,950 vessels in 2005, the numbers are starting to grow once more. In 2014, he reported, the total number of vessels will land somewhere between 2,200 and 2,250.

Commissioner Doyle, who started his career in Massachusetts and currently shares his expertise of the maritime industry in Washington D.C., expressed how impressed he was with the work of everyone involved in the Philadelphia Port.

“It is a vibrant port,” he said, emphasizing that many of the strategies implemented by other American ports today were already in effect in Philadelphia twenty years ago.

Many of the speeches at the luncheon focused on natural gas and Pennsylvania’s position as an “energy hub.” In the state of Pennsylvania, investors find both wet and dry natural gas, something which is highly sought after in Europe. With Philadelphia’s unique position as a major city and port with the added advantage of having such natural resources on its doorstep, the vision for the future of the Philadelphia Port is bright.

“When the smoke clears, we are going to be an energy export hub. Dare I say the Houston of the east coast?” ventured Rochford.

In addition to the simple presence of sought-after goods and the efficient means to transport them, the trade connections between Philadelphia and the rest of the world continue to grow. Commissioner Doyle mentioned a number of transatlantic and transpacific projects involving many countries and companies, a few of which are based in or have strong connections to Philadelphia.

“The international carrier world is rapidly changing,” he said, as he encouraged Philadelphia and its port to “keep up the good work.”

“There is so much economic opportunity to look forward to,” Doyle continued. He emphasized that not only does the Philadelphia Port contribute to the local economy and job market, but that it has the potential of doing the same favor for the rest of the country. Overall, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania trade has much to look forward to.