Ports & Terminals

Port Houston Reports Softening Imports

Speaking at the March meeting of the Port of Houston Authority’s board of commissioners, Roger Guenther, the port’s executive director, said the authority has seen modest tonnage growth thus far in 2023 compared to last year’s volumes.

“Overall tonnage is up 7 percent year-to-date collectively for our public terminals,” Guenther said. “However, we are now seeing considerable softening of demand, especially in the import of containers.”

Guenther added that export volumes are being driven, in part, by demand for petrochemicals.

“Nevertheless, export volumes remain strong, driven by the strength of plastic resins and other petrochemical commodities produced in our region and delivered globally through Port Houston,” he said. “Our export shippers have signaled that 2023 will continue to be a solid year.”

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Port leadership had anticipated a softening in demand for container imports, Guenther said, and had budgeted accordingly.

“Expectations are that recovery of this volume will begin to bounce back in the last half of 2023,” he said.

Still, the port is pressing on with its aggressive capital improvement plans.

“We look at this short breather in import demand as an opportunity to take advantage of and utilize this time to reset and continue to aggressively continue with capital improvements to our facilities to meet future demand, with planned investments of $1.8 billion in improvements over the next five years,” Guenther said.

One such improvement is already underway at the port’s Bayport Industrial Complex, where Packwell recently broke ground on a new 725,000-square-foot resin packing facility. Once complete, Packwell will pack some 20,000 containers annually for export. The facility, which will come online early next year, is on property leased from the port and will feature high-speed packaging lines, 450 truck spots, the capability to handle more than 700 rail cars per month and dock doors for loading 40-foot containers for export.

Packwell’s loading facilities throughout the Houston region serve resin producers like Polymers LLC and Novealis Holdings LLC.

“Port Houston is the nation’s No. 1 port for resin exports, handling 59 percent of all resins exported from the United States in 2022, and we are excited to welcome this new facility near our Bayport Container Terminal,” Guenther said at the groundbreaking for the new Packwell facility. “As we invest in developing our marine terminals to support the continuous growth of resin exports, value-added services near our facilities that support the resin supply chain are also important investments. We look forward to serving our region in this capacity.”

Also during the port commission’s March 20 meeting, commissioners heard a report on Project 11, the effort to deepen and widen portions of the Houston Ship Channel to allow, among other capabilities, two-way ship traffic.

While the expansion project is currently “on time and on budget,” Project 11 still requires an additional $180 million federal appropriation in order to be funded to completion. The last phase of construction is slated for completion in 2025.