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Panama Canal expansion opens up job opportunities

HOUSTON – A massive $5 billion expansion project at the Panama Canal is finally complete.

Think of it as a HOV lane to the world, allowing bigger container ships to take a shortcut, carrying even more products we buy to the United States. And the Port of Houston is one of the biggest off ramps.

Roger Guenther is the port's executive director.

“So (this is) big opportunity for growth in the economic activity in our region," Guenther told KPRC Channel 2 News.

Guenther just hosted dozens of companies at a conference to discuss shipping in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gunther said the area will all feel the impact of the Panama Canal expansion through major retailers where we all shop.

“Walmart's a big player, Ikea and on and on. Ikea is one that just announced they're going to start bringing cargo through Houston instead of the West Coast," Gunther said.

Academy is also planning to increase imports through Houston because of the canal expansion. And that's where the trickle-down effect starts. You can expect to see more jobs for Houstonians.

All those imports are put on trucks, headed to stores and warehouses.

“Those containers are moving in around Houston and the region, going to places that you know well. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, things like that,” Chief Port Operations Officer Jeff Davis said.

There are more than 6,000 truck operations a day at the port.

To prepare for the bigger ships that will soon arrive in Houston, the Port Authority spent millions of dollars upgrading its infrastructure, bringing new construction jobs to the region.

“The cranes are larger, we're doing some deepening and widening projects in the channel to be able to facilitate larger ships and the technology that we use to move trucks in and out,” Davis said.

The improvements will allow ships from Asia to dock here, bringing products to Houston from half a world away.

“Through the use of the Panama Canal, we've been able to secure currently three, all water Asian services, and it's our fastest growing market,” Davis said.

The smartphones that everyone owns -- it’s almost a guarantee they came here on a container ship.

“The Port of Houston already, in general, contributes $265 billion annually to the state of Texas economy. That's 16 percent of the GPD of the state. This is just going to add to it,”  Guenther said.

The port's overall economic impact goes well beyond Houston. The Port Authority said companies doing business at the port generate more than 2 million jobs nationwide and contribute more than $600 billion to the country's economy. 

FACTS ABOUT THE PORT OF HOUSTON

The Port of Houston Authority is a part of the greater Port of Houston, which is 25 miles of the 52-mile long Houston Ship Channel.

The Port of Houston compromises more than 150 private and (eight) public terminals. The Port of Houston Authority represents the public terminals. The Port Authority was created by the state of Texas for the purpose of creating jobs and economic development, the Port Authority advocates on behalf of the greater interests of the Port of Houston.

The greater Port of Houston helps generate more than 2.1 million jobs and more than $617 billion in economic impact to the United States.  The Port of Houston has a reach of nearly 40 million consumers in 500 miles. The Port of Houston Authority is the leading container port on the Gulf Coast handling nearly 70 percent of containerized cargo. The Port Authority is considered to be America’s distribution hub for the next generation.

In 2012, Colliers International named the Port of Houston as the nation’s “Most Irreplaceable Port” based on the vital nature of the port’s physical aspects. The next year, the firm then bestowed the Port of Houston Authority with another award based on its operational excellence.