Senator Jay Rockefeller today said industries in West Virginia could see a boost in their worldwide exports because of the widening of the Panama Canal and new infrastructure projects on the East Coast.
Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, today led a hearing titled "Expanding the Panama Canal: What Does it Mean for American Freight and Infrastructure?"
Expansion currently underway at the Panama Canal will allow for cargo ships more than twice as large as those moving through it today. The expansion is scheduled for completion by 2015, which could help set the stage for an increase in export traffic at ports on the Gulf Coast and East Coast of the United States.
"The products imported on the biggest ships find their way to West Virginia, and businesses here exported more than $11 billion of goods abroad last year," said Rockefeller.
"West Virginia continues to be an exporting success story, consistently breaking records in recent years for sending its goods and services abroad. While the Panama Canal is far from the hills of West Virginia, its expansion, along with other infrastructure projects, creates all sorts of possible opportunities for our businesses and our workers. I'm excited about the potential economic development and job growth we could see in the coming years," Rockefeller said.
To prepare for the potential transformation of the East Coast's freight movement after the Panama Canal expansion, Rockefeller is calling for a strategic, long-term plan for the country's transportation infrastructure. For example, federal and state investments are leading to the construction of the Pritchard Intermodal Facility Project, an inland shipping port in Wayne County. The new project is part of Norfolk Southern's Heartland Corridor project, which connects railroads from Chicago with ports in Norfolk, Virginia and provides West Virginia railways with safer crossings and expanded rail capacity.
Rockefeller said the project is an example of the benefits of leveraging private and public investments in our nation's transportation infrastructure. Businesses depend on a well-functioning transportation system to manage their supply chains and move their goods and services to market. That's why a well-maintained, efficient transportation system is essential to the state's economic competitiveness, Rockefeller said.
To that end, Rockefeller last month introduced The American Infrastructure Investment Fund Act of 2013, which seeks to rebuild and expand the nation's transportation infrastructure, improve public safety and create jobs. The bill calls for an infrastructure fund that incentivizes private, state and regional investments in transportation projects around the country--projects just like the Pritchard Intermodal Facility.
"The expansion of the Panama Canal--and the possible growth of our shipping capacity in West Virginia and across the eastern seaboard--shows what can happen when the public and private sector works together in rebuilding and expanding our rail systems, ports, highways and airports," Rockefeller said.
Exporting continues to be a bright spot for the West Virginia economy. Last year was the third consecutive year of record exports from the state, with $11.3 billion reported
in 2012--a 25 percent growth from 2011. The national growth rate during that same time period was 4.6 percent.