Port of Milwaukee steel shipments rank second highest since 1970

The final shipment of steel for 2014 arrived today in the Port of Milwaukee, bringing the year’s total volume of steel shipments to 179,000 metric tons, the second highest annual steel tonnage since 1970, according to port spokesman Jeff Fleming.

Last year, the Port of Milwaukee moved 111,842 metric tons of steel. Its previous high was 200,888 in 2006.

“This year was a particularly good year for steel,” Fleming said, adding that 2014’s total steel tonnage was significantly higher than during the recession. 

For example, steel shipments dipped to its lowest point in 2011, with 60,975 metric tons.

“The volume of steel we handle is affected by several factors, and one positive factor is the strength of manufacturing in this region,” Fleming said. “Manufacturers use steel, and when volumes are up at the Port of Milwaukee it usually correlates with strong manufacturing output.”

Besides the regional economic conditions, the factors affecting steel volumes are global economic conditions, reliability, efficiency of delivering steel through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and cost-effective port operations.

Fleming is optimistic that steel will continue to be a strong commodity moving through the Port of Milwaukee in 2015.

Although steel is on the rise, he said the port’s biggest commodity is salt, with over one million tons of salt moved this year. Salt is always a steady commodity due to Wisconsin’s snowy winters. Some other commodities moved through the port are limestone used in scrubbers at coal-fired power plants, grain and cement.

Additionally, Fleming said the port can handle a variety of other cargoes, including a mining shovel being shipped to Africa and an oversized piece of deep sea oil drilling equipment headed to the Gulf of Mexico.

Overall, the St. Lawrence Seaway reported that year-to-date cargo shipments of 35 million metric tons moved through the system for the period of March 28 to November 30. Total cargo volume is up 5 percent due predominantly to formidable tonnage of steel, salt and grain shipments.

“Steel, salt and grain tonnage numbers registered double-digit increases (80 percent, 48 percent and 44 percent, respectively) over last year’s performance,” said Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation administrator Betty Sutton. “Solid cargo improvement, continued infrastructure investments and start-up of the first foreign liner service to a U.S. Great Lakes port in two decades (Spliethoff’s Cleveland Europe Express) are just three highlights in a season that has us optimistic about our system’s future.”

The St. Lawrence Seaway will close for the season later this month, and today’s ship, the Federal Mattawa, is the final one to bring overseas cargo into the Port of Milwaukee.

One additional ocean-going ship, the bulk carrier named Three Rivers, is expected to depart the Port of Milwaukee later this week with a load of exported soybeans headed for Turkey. Ships traveling between ports on the Great Lakes will continue to call on the Port of Milwaukee into the coming months.

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