South Florida cement maker starts export push

South Florida cement maker starts export push
Published: 09 December 2009

Exporting South Florida cement from Port Everglades to Panama today proves how much work it takes to shift trade gears and save local factory jobs during the U.S. business slump.

The key problem, managers found, was that transport systems are well-developed to bring cement into Florida, but not to ship it out in large quantities.

Loading a ship in Broward with tons of cement made in west Miami-Dade is "like filling a swimming pool with a coffee cup and taking that cup 30 miles each way," said John Lyon, shipping manager for cement maker Titan America LLC.

The export story begins during the real estate boom, when a Greek company bought the South Florida cement maker and doubled production to meet surging local demand.

For decades, South Florida has been bringing in foreign cement to meet its voracious appetite for building supplies. Ships arrive at Port Everglades and pump their loads of cement through a pipeline into giant storage silos at the seaport. Trucks come slowly as needed to pick it up from storage.

But after construction crashed, Greek-owned Titan America found its Medley cement plant overproducing. It cut back from roughly 300 to nearly 200 employees at the site.

When a Panama company approached, it jumped at the chance to fill a big contract overseas for the first time, supplying cement for a hydroelectric dam being built in Panama’s jungle. The exports will make up about one month’s production and preserve about 15 jobs in Medley, Titan executives said.

But logistics have proved tough. Most cement makers that rely on exports produce next to docks and pump cement from their factory through a pipeline into an awaiting ship.

But for Titan, filling a ship with 8.500 tons of cement means sending roughly 350 truckloads from Medley to Port Everglades. That takes about 66 drivers from five trucking companies working round-the-clock over two days. Every truck also must hook up a hose to pump its contents into the ship. The pipeline connecting storage silos at Port Everglades can’t be used for the task, said Titan America’s Frank Lazarowicz, director of marketing services for cement and aggregates.

Titan executives worked with Port Everglades for about a year to coordinate the export venture. The port expects about $150,000 in revenues from handling about 120,000t of Titan cement over two years, sometimes more than one shipload a month.

But Port Director Phil Allen said what’s most exciting is seeing how collaboration between business and port officials can bring new options for Florida’s economy. With the U.S. dollar weak and economies overseas growing faster than the United States, he’s bullish on exports.

Added Titan’s Lazarowicz: "We’re struggling at our cement plant. With this project and more exports to go, we can save jobs."