SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Mobile’s expanding seaport is being positioned as a prime new commercial gateway for Dominican shippers during a trade mission led by the Alabama Department of Commerce to the Caribbean nation this week.
Denson White, director of APM Terminals at the Port of Mobile, said maritime companies in the Dominican Republic have long relied on East Coast ports such as Miami. White joined Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and others in talks this week with high-ranking Dominican officials that outlined the ambitious improvements under way at the Port of Mobile.
“As Alabama’s port continues to grow and expand, there are various opportunities ahead for the state,” White said. “A key component is to provide the Caribbean with another shipping option. The creation of an intermodal rail facility in Mobile will provide a world-class facility and a gateway for the Dominican Republic to access not only Alabama, but also the interior U.S.”
Late last year, the Alabama State Port Authority awarded a $20 million contract to a construction firm to build the first phase of the intermodal rail facility, which will boost the port’s attractiveness to shippers. The project follows the construction of a $10 million bridge that will connect the Garrows Bend Intermodal Container Transfer Facility to the port’s five Class 1 railroads.
The Garrows Bend facility will handle containerized imports and exports moving through APM Terminals Mobile. The Port Authority’s three-pronged intermodal development also includes a 45-foot draft container terminal and logistics park.
The Port Authority has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years on improving the infrastructure of Alabama’s only deep-water port and enhancing its capabilities.
While in Santo Domingo today, the Alabama group engaged in meetings with key managers for shipping companies that included MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Maersk Dominicana. On Wednesday, the Alabama group met with Mayobanex Escoto, the executive director of the Dominican Port Authority, and Teddy Heinsen, president of the Dominican Association of Shippers, who made introductions to members of his organization.
“These relations can be key as both APM Mobile and Dominican attempt to attract additional steamship lines to service Mobile,” White said. “Mr. Heinsen’s group is also key to the Dominican Republic setting up free trade logistical areas that are similar to what is in currently in Panama.”
‘WE’LL BE BACK!’
The trade and business development mission that began Tuesday in Santo Domingo also aims to advance Alabama’s tourism and education sectors. Tourism officials from the City of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development made contacts with the Ministry of Culture and a national travel agent group.
Representatives from the University of South Alabama, Auburn University and the University of North Alabama engaged in meetings with important stakeholders in the Dominican Republic’s higher education community.
Andrew Gillespie, assistant provost for international programs for Auburn, said the mission has created opportunities for his university.
“I was able to meet with a large number of universities, Ministry of Education leadership, high school administrators, and high school and university students to discuss all facets of student mobility,” Gillespie said. “Strategic for Auburn, this program provided me with some real contacts and possibilities to recruit students and develop collaborations in luring student and faculty exchange, joint degree programs and student transfers, and teacher training.”
He said he plans to continue exploring possibilities and will maintain contact with Dominican Republic colleagues and Ministry of Education officials. “It was great to see the excitement of the students and their interest in Auburn and Alabama,” he added. “We’ll be back!”
On Tuesday, Secretary Canfield participated in a “Pathways to Prosperity” roundtable discussion that focused on customs procedures. In his remarks, U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster singled out Maria Mendez, director of Latin America sales and trade development for the Alabama State Port Authority, as a “good friend of the Dominican Republic.”
Mendez played an instrumental role introducing a visiting Dominican delegation to the Port of Mobile’s operations last year and showed “what Alabama Southern hospitality is all about,” Brewster said.
Some members of the Alabama delegation to the Dominican trade mission began heading home today, while the rest will return on Friday.