Agriculture, food processing, and several other Merced County industrial sectors rely on the transportation and logistics systems in place throughout the state of California. One of those transportation systems reached an important milestone this year.
The Port of Stockton is celebrating eighty years of service to the business community.
Every Saturday this summer, the Port has been providing free boat tours to the public in celebration of this milestone anniversary. Recently my wife and I took advantage of a two hour tour of the area served by the Port.
As our boat set off at the docks near downtown Stockton, we were impressed by the substantial investment of time and money to create an attractive vantage point of this city of four-hundred thousand.
The city has had a lot of negative attention in recent years with the local government filing for bankruptcy, CBS 60 Minutes describing the area as ground zero of the national mortgage crisis, and general bad news about crime.
Seeing the beautiful waterscape at the Port injects some optimism as well as civic pride.
Through the Port of Stockton, more than ninety percent of the chemical fertilizer used by the Central Valley agriculture industry comes in every year.
More than a million and a half tons of American products, everything from agricultural goods to tire chips, to cement goes through the waterway. The value of these products, as estimated by the Port, is over one-billion dollars annually.
The Port says it pays more than five million dollars annually in taxes.
Before the US Housing bubble burst in the middle of the past decade, the Port hit an all-time record in the shipping of concrete.
More than 2.2 million metric tons of cement were brought in for use throughout California and other states to feed the demand for new housing.
Those numbers fell throughout the housing crisis, but there is hope now as we see signs of a slow recovering in the building of new homes. Builders expect the demand for cement will intensify.
In 2011, the Port issued a report that showed the amount of material leaving the Stockton facility exceeded the value of goods coming into the facility. While the rest of the United States was experiencing a trade deficit, the Port of Stockton activity was going against the trends.
On top of that, management is proud of the environmental initiatives that have improved the soil, water, and air in the region.
We were shown wildlife habitats along the waterway as we passed under Interstate 5 and made our way west past Rough and Ready Island. Rough and Ready Island was a Naval Base that was turned over to the Port in 2000. The acquisition drastically increased the size and scope of services available to users of the shipping site.
Our cruise boat passed a number of warehouses that line the shoreline. There are seven-point-seven million square feet of covered storage space available to users. In addition to storage, the Port has U.S. Customs offices, scales, and an in-house police force providing security.
Both the Union Pacific and Northern Santa Fe Railroad lines run to the facility. With rail, truck, and ship traffic, this is truly a full intermodal transportation and logistics center.
There are also a number of private homes that line the north side of the waterway. These homes are considered prime real estate in a community that has hadmore thanits share of bumps in the midst of the mortgage crisis.
One home in particular shows its community pride with a replica of the Statue of Liberty on display for international visitors to see as they pass through the Port.
Nearly five dozen countries have some form of trade relationship that touches the Port of Stockton. Leadership at the Port takes pride in estimates that this community asset effectively supports over forty-five hundred jobs in the San Joaquin County area that includes Merced, Stanislaus, and other counties. These jobs generate an annual payroll of about $180-million to the region.
We take great pride in the bounty our farmers produce here in Merced County. Our agricultural producers know even the greatest products we can grow are of little value without a system to move these goods to the marketplace. Excellent products, coupled with a sound transportation system, add value to what our community contributes in terms of economic activity.
Thanks to the Port of Stockton and other transportation systems, the true economic engine of the Central Valley can be realized.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced