Inland Port designation could be next for WNY

by David Bertola, Buffalo Business First

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The Port of New York and New Jersey is working with Buffalo Niagara International Trade Gateway Organization to explore whether Western New York can be designated as an inland port.

Founded last year, the organization works with area companies, state and economic development agencies and the private sector to market, develop and support the region’s logistics infrastructure and develop its workforce.

Last August, the Port and Buffalo Niagara International Trade Gateway Organization (ITGO) signed a memorandum of understanding that designated Buffalo Niagara as a strategic international gateway. The MOU designation recognizes the region as an integrated center for trans-shipment, storage, collection and distribution of goods being transported from Port of New York and New Jersey.

The next step for both sides is to determine what’s necessary to earn the inland port designation, which could result in international shipments being delivered directly to Western New York. It also could mean additional jobs, investment, resources and streamlining transportation processes to manage the increase in cargo.

Inland port is an official logistics and transportation industry term that defines a specific relationship with a port. If Western New York were to achieve the designation, it would be different than traditional inland ports, which are one specific destination.

“We’re more of a resource, not a specific destination, so we need others to understand that all the infrastructure is here,” said Craig Turner, who chairs ITGO’s government relations committee. “If ocean carriers said to us tomorrow, ‘Let’s do this,’ we could handle the initial volume increase. And when it comes to infrastructure, we need to optimize our entire system, and make the region more marketable to get freight through.”

The timing of the initiative coincides with a $5.3 billion widening of the Panama Canal, which is nearing completion. As Port of New York and New Jersey officials brace themselves for more shipping containers trying to pass through an already congested port, they are looking ahead – and possibly to Western New York – to avoid shipping bottlenecks.

That’s because additional Panama Canal freight will end up at the Port of New York and New Jersey, which can’t add capacity to meet what area logistics professionals say will be an overwhelming increase in shipping containers and truck traffic.

Some of that freight could be routed through Buffalo.

“To manage that, we’ll need to be able to bring additional shipping containers in and out of the region,” said ITGO President James Manno of Sonwil Distribution Center Inc.

Turner and Manno said that about 90,000 shipping containers currently make their way through Western New York annually, and that the inland port designation could double that amount. If that happens, Turner wants to be ready.

“We want to tell the world that we’re centralized, and here for them,” he said.

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