U.S. Great Lakes Port Officials Recap 2022 Shipping Season, Provide Insights

With the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System’s 2022 shipping season recently coming to a close, the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership is providing a closer look at the efforts that made last year’s successes possible.

“Ports around the Great Lakes Seaway System demonstrated a high level of resiliency and a commitment to uplifting the American economy in 2022,” said Adam Tindall-Schlicht, Administrator, Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “The ability of the Seaway System to adapt and overcome various supply chain challenges domestically and internationally leaves me with a great sense of pride and optimism as we gear up for a strong 2023 shipping season.”

2022 saw notable increases in shipments of corn, soy, fertilizer, wind energy equipment, and a diverse range of other essential commodities on the Seaway System.

2022 highlights from U.S. Great Lakes ports

Lake Ontario

Port of Oswego

A high volume of grains, aluminum, and wind energy equipment shipments tell the story of the Port of Oswego in 2022. The port proved to be well-positioned to respond to increased demand for moving essential commodities. One notable highlight included importing New York State’s largest wind turbine blade, which was made possible because of the construction of a new road connected to the port.

“We’re no longer looked at as the small little port on Lake Ontario, and we’re gaining our reputation in the Great Lakes commerce trade,” said William Scriber, Executive Director of the Port of Oswego. “I believe that a prosperous and healthy port creates a prosperous and healthy community, and that’s what the Port of Oswego has always been. Our board and I have a vision of ensuring that the Port of Oswego is a driving economic force in upstate New York.”

Scriber also pointed to his port’s role in supplying the growing domestic semiconductor industry. Micron Technology, Inc., announced plans to build what will be the largest semiconductor fabrication facility in the country by 2024 in nearby Onondaga County, NY.

The Port of Oswego isn’t without its challenges, however. Lake Ontario is impacted by rising water levels caused by climate change, prompting the port to stay ahead of the curve by investing in infrastructure and stabilization efforts.

“Our primary concern is our docks and our piers. We’ve invested heavily in upgrading our docks in response to high water levels brought on by climate change,” added Scriber. “We have to not only be prepared for the effects of climate change, but we have to be able to thrive and prosper amid these changes.”

Lake Erie

Port of Cleveland

The Port of Cleveland saw significant tonnage increases in 2022. General cargo was up 25 percent compared to 2021, as its docks moved roughly 525,000 metric tons in 2022. Container volumes through Cleveland also doubled last year compared to the previous year.

Infrastructure upgrades were significant in Cleveland last year. The Port of Cleveland is nearing completion of its Dock 24 and Dock 26 rehabilitation project, a $22 million investment that will position the port for success for the next 30 to 40 years. This and other projects have substantially reduced the port’s environmental footprint by limiting the amount of time trucks have to wait when moving in and out of the port.

Frequent destinations on the Great Lakes, including the Port of Cleveland, found themselves well-positioned to help shippers overcome global supply chain challenges in 2022.

“Congestion at coastal ports frankly helps smaller, inland ports like us because customers and cargo owners are looking for other locations to move their goods through,” said Dave Gutheil, Chief Commercial Officer at the Port of Cleveland. “We’ve done a good job of establishing ourselves as a viable alternative to the coastal ports. Cargo owners have come to the realization that ports like us can be used just as efficiently, if not more so, as the coastal ports.”

Port of Toledo

The Port of Toledo had a record year as its General Cargo Dock handled its highest volume of aluminum shipments to date. Additionally, grain shipments at Toledo jumped nearly 15 percent compared to 2021, marking the highest increase the port has seen.

State and federal partnerships empowered the port to upgrade its infrastructure and reduce its environmental impact. “The extensive capabilities of the Port of Toledo were demonstrated throughout our record-setting shipping season,” said Joe Cappel, Vice President of Business Development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “Strategic infrastructure and sustainability investments not only made our accomplishments in 2022 possible but they also position our docks for high productivity and efficiency in the years ahead.”

Lake Michigan

Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor

It was a record setting year at Burns Harbor, which for the second straight season handled more cargo through its docks than any other year since the Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor opened in 1970. The port handled record volumes of foundry coke, minerals, and steel products in 2022.

“We’re excited to celebrate another record year, but we believe the best is yet to come,” said Ryan McCoy, Port Director for the Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor. “Our team is currently working on a $32 million facilities expansion funded, in part, by two federal grants that includes construction of two rail yards, new bulk and general cargo terminals, a bulk warehouse and a truck marshalling yard. These new assets will drive significant future growth.”

Illinois International Port District

The Illinois International Port District’s (IIPD) productive 2022 was driven by increased volumes of lumber, sugar, and non-ferrous metals shipped through Chicago. Other highlights at IIPD include securing $21.5 million in state grant funding through the Rebuild Illinois program and implementing its first ever master plan.

The grant funding will go towards the reconstruction of a landing dock wall and to replace warehouse roofs, which will make the port more energy efficient as it sees continued growth. Additionally, federal bipartisan infrastructure investments passed during the last Congress are taking effect. Vice President Kamala Harris recently visited the 95th Street Bridge over the Calumet River to tout $144 million to upgrade the bridges and roads near the IIPD.

Erik A. Varela, Executive Director of the IIPD, explained that the steel and concrete needed for these infrastructure investments wouldn’t be possible without the shipments that come through his docks.

“Without our partnerships at all levels of government, we wouldn’t be able to obtain the capital necessary to complete these projects on our own. It’s been so long since we’ve had capital improvement projects of this magnitude here in Chicago,” Varela said. “We’re getting the materials we need to build our cities, states, and country.”

Port Milwaukee

Overall tonnage through Port Milwaukee was down slightly in 2022 compared to 2021, but new developments underway give good reason to be optimistic heading into the next shipping season. Construction of a new agricultural export facility is expected to complete this spring and should position Milwaukee for sustained productivity going forward.

“We’re constantly working on reinvesting in our infrastructure. Our port is pretty old, so we’re making sure that we prioritize keeping our assets in good repair in order to accommodate new business when it comes,” said Jackie Q. Carter, Port Director of Port Milwaukee.

Carter also emphasized that breakbulk shipments, including brewery tanks and construction materials support broader industries in the region. “It’s nice to be able to connect something that people associate with Milwaukee back to the port and demonstrate our role in supporting that,” added Carter

As the shipping industry focuses on new ways to reduce its environmental impact, Port Milwaukee launched its StewardSHIP Initiative in 2022 to incentivize ship owners to utilize sustainable policies. Fourteen (14) Milwaukee-bound vessels participated in this program in its first year.

Port of Green Bay

The Port of Green Bay saw its tonnage numbers in 2022 decrease 10 percent compared to 2021. Green Bay’s top imports included foreign limestone, which increased 11 percent last year, and domestic petroleum products, which jumped 36 percent.

“We had a strong shipping season in 2021 and while we strive to reach 2 million tons a year, it’s not always possible due to marketplace conditions,” said Dean Haen, Director of the Port of Green Bay said in a statement. “Still, in the current economy, we’re pleased with where things finished.”

Lake Superior

Port of Duluth-Superior

Total tonnage through the Port of Duluth-Superior was down in 2022 compared to the year prior, as commodities like coal and grain shipments were down relative to historical trends. It was still a strong year for general cargo shipments, including 19 million tons of iron ore.

Deb DeLuca, Executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, pointed out the important economic impact the cargo shipments have on the region in a statement:

“On the positive side, 2022 was a terrific season for general cargo tonnage, and while it doesn’t offset grain or coal in total tonnage, those general cargo shipments deliver outsized economic value per ton in comparison, and they also support development of regional industry and greener energy sources, so they represent a big win for our port and our region.”

About the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System

The Great Lakes-Seaway System serves a dynamic economic region that includes eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. If the region were a country, it would have the 3rd largest economy in the world with a GDP of $5.5 trillion – larger than that of Japan, Germany, Brazil, or the United Kingdom. The region is home to 107 million people and accounts for almost 40 percent of the total cross-border trade between the U.S. and Canada.

Great Lakes-Seaway shipping is a foundation of this vibrant economy. More than 160 million metric tons of commercial cargo are transported on the waterway each year, providing low-cost and efficient transportation for the region’s manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and energy sectors.

Great Lakes-Seaway shipping lifts American and Canadian economies on an annual basis by supporting:

· 237,868 jobs

· $35 billion in economic activity

· $14.2 billion in personal income and local consumption expenditures

· $6.6 billion in federal, state/provincial, and local tax revenue

About the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership is a coalition of leading U.S. and Canadian maritime organizations working to enhance public understanding of the benefits of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes Seaway region of North America. The organization manages an education-focused communications program, sponsors research and works closely with media, policy makers, community groups, allied industries, environmental stakeholders and the general public to highlight the positive attributes of marine transportation.

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