Port of Milwaukee director Paul Vornholt expects shipping volumes to be about the same this year as they were in 2015 when roughly 2.3 million metric tons came through the port.
“That’s probably a good outlook for us,” he said, noting that downturns in the energy sector and other markets make for a challenging environment.
The St. Lawrence Seaway is opening this week, marking the start of the 2016 shipping season. Vornholt said the two lake freighters currently at the port will be heading out today or tomorrow in advance of the complete opening of the seaway.
Vornholt said mild winter means this year’s opening is a little on the early side, but the season usually gets underway by the end of March.
The 2,286,285 million metric tons shipped in 2015 was a decrease of just over 11 percent from 2014. Despite the decrease, Vornholt said he still expects the port will return over $1 million to the city when it finalizes its record keeping later this year.
Vornholt said the challenge for the port is to remain competitive with all modes of transportation. While the seaway offers an advantage on logistics, he said the port also has to compete with east coast ports when cargo can be sent via rail or truck.
He highlighted two examples from 2015 where the logistics of shipping via the seaway were an advantage. One was a 40 foot high rotary kiln manufactured in West Allis and sent to Ontario, Canada. The other was two mining shovels, one from Caterpillar and another from Joy Global, sent to South Africa and Sweden respectively.
Vornholt said the port is very susceptible to the broader economy and changes in industries like manufacturing and construction can alter the port’s performance.