Expanded Panama Canal is business boon for Port of Baltimore

WASHINGTON — The international maritime community is celebrating the opening of the newly expanded Panama Canal. But the bigger canal — and its ability to handle supersized cargo ships — will likely mean more jobs at the Port of Baltimore.

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“It’s a huge occasion,” said Richard Scher, director of communications at the Maryland Port Administration. “The Port of Baltimore is one of only three East Coast ports that can today take the largest ships in the world. You have to have the necessary infrastructure at your port to be able to handle the massive ships,” he said.

That means a 50-foot deep channel, a 50-foot deep container berth and supersized cranes that can reach over, handle and lift containers off those large ships.

The only other East Coast ports with that capacity are Norfolk, Virginia, and Miami, Florida, but Scher says other ports on the East Coast, from New York down to Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, all have hurdles to jump to reach that capacity milestone.

“It really is an arms race between all the other ports on the East Coast,” said Scher.

Right now he says there are more than 13,600 direct jobs generated in the Port of Baltimore but statewide the port is linked to nearly 130,000 jobs.

“The fact that the Port of Baltimore will start to see larger ships bringing more cargo through the Panama Canal than before will do nothing but increase jobs,” he said.

The port takes in a lot of cargo destined for surrounding states including Delaware and West Virginia, but Scher says with the bigger ships coming in, the Port of Baltimore can explore markets into the Midwest as well.

“There’s a rail hurdle we need to get over to develop those pathways,” he added.

The first super ships coming from the expanded Panama Canal will arrive in the Port of Baltimore sometime next month.

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