A deeper Channel Floats All Boats’: The Port Economy as Urban Growth Machine

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A Deeper Channel Floats All Boats’:

The Port Economy as Urban Growth Machine

David Jaffee
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

University of North Florida

Jacksonville, FL 32224

Do not quote or cite without permission from author.

Submitted for inclusion in the program of the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, Denver, 2012


The analysis of urban political economy has been influenced by the insights of the “growth machine” model that posits the power and influence of land-based elites in advancing a pro-growth agenda. As urban areas develop strategies for economic expansion and job creation they are supported by elite coalitions and promoted through the rhetoric of universal economic interest and civic boosterism. This paper analyzes various dynamics of the growth machine model in the context of the recent growth agenda advanced in support of the maritime port of Jacksonville Florida (herein referred to as Jaxport). This case study will serve to highlight some of the ways in which this model and associated forms of “boosterism” represent a powerful and compelling framework for understanding urban development as well as the shortcomings revealed by unintended consequences of the growth juggernaut. It will also illuminate the expanding role and sectoral prominence of distribution and goods-moving – as opposed to production, consumption, and goods-producing – as a consequence of globalization and the rise of logistics.

The analysis of urban political economy has been shaped heavily by the insights of the growth machine model (Molotch, 1976; Logan & Molotch, 1987) that posits the power and influence of land-based elites in advancing a pro-growth agenda. As urban areas develop plans for economic expansion, and advance particular strategies for local and regional economic development, they are supported by elite coalitions and promoted through the rhetoric of universal economic interest and civic boosterism. This paper analyzes various dynamics of the growth machine model in the context of the recent growth agenda advanced in support of the maritime port of Jacksonville Florida (herein referred to as Jaxport). This case study will serve to highlight and illuminate some of the ways in which this model and associated forms of “boosterism” (Cronon, 1991; Elfin & Wysong, 1990; Lessof, 2008; Boyle, 1999) represent a powerful and compelling framework for understanding urban development as well as the shortcomings revealed by unintended consequences of the growth juggernaut (see Jonas & Wilson, 1999). The case also points to the growing importance, but relative neglect within sociology, of the goods-moving sector for urban and regional development.

Introduction and Background: Growth Machines and Port Economies

There are two perspectives that will inform the analysis of the recent and current effort to mobilize economic and community resources around the creation of a port economy in Jacksonville, Florida. First is the growth machine model (Molotch, 1976; Logan & Molotch, 1987). The ability of the meta-theme of growth to mobilize and bind local elites is based primarily on the material interests of those who own land and building properties, and the prospect that growth will enhance the exchange-value of these assets. These interests contribute to the political mobilization of elites who seek to influence local government on fiscal and regulatory matters related to stimulating growth and land use policy. As a consequence many other local urban actors and constituencies also benefit from growth due to the resources that flow from an increasing population, income stream, and tax base. This model includes an equally critical dialectical element fueled by the “countercoalitions” that can emerge as growth infringes upon and threatens both the use values and the potential exchange values of urban spaces and suburban neighborhoods (Logan & Molotch, 1987). The mobilization of countercoalitions can thwart efforts of local elites to impose their land use preferences on the local population.

A second closely related approach builds upon the growth imperative as a form of civic boosterism that can serve to unify the community, mobilize public opinion, and shape identities of place. In this view, the ability of local elites to advance the growth imperative, and particular associated development projects, requires a range of strategies and tactics that serve both to convince the local population of the goodness of the growth plans as well as shape the larger image of the city and region in a manner that is consonant with the intended development. Boyle (1999, p. 55) has described these “efforts made by local elites to refashion collective emotion and consciousness within cities in order to legitimate political projects that function primarily in their interests” as “Urban Propaganda Projects”. While the term “booster” was originally used to describe land speculators in the American frontier during the nineteenth century (Cronon 1991), today it refers to any type of “promotion of regional economic growth” (Eflin and Wysong, 1990), and associated strategies or tactics (Gold & Ward, 1994). Boosterism has been the subject of studies of Sunbelt regions and cities such as Corpus Christi, Texas (Lessof, 2008), and Tampa, Florida (Eflin and Wysong, 1990) that have attempted to promote redevelopment, a new regional identity, as well as expand the tax base through tourism and particular forms of commerce.

This analysis considers the ways in which the local port economy is supported and promoted not only by the power of local and national economic interests competing for the provision of scarce resources but also through public legitimacy campaigns designed to mobilize public opinion and define the collective identity of the region.

There are some particular features of a port economy that serve to shape the application of the growth machine model and introduce several other factors in the analysis of the local political economy (see Bonacich & Wilson, 2009). The “port economy” is defined here as the constellation of economic activities that revolve around the transportation, logistics, and distribution of goods moving through a maritime port. The growing significance of port economies over the past twenty years can be directly linked to the larger process of globalization and the dispersion of production, or the increasing distance between the point of production and the point of consumption (Dicken, 1998). This is reflected in the well-established and growing literature on global commodity chains, global production networks, and global value chains (Gereffi & Korzeniewicz 1994; Henderson, et al., 2002; Coe, et al., 2004). Under a globalized production system, raw materials are extracted in one place, parts and components may be produced in another, manufacturing may take place in yet another, and final consumption still another. As the geographic space between interdependent activities in a commodity chain increases, transportation and logistics take on an increasingly vital role in the circulation and distribution of commodities. In this context, U.S. ports, and the urban areas and regions in proximity, serve as the spatial nodes through which global commodity/production chains flow via intermodal transportation to national wholesale and retail markets.

On the one hand, the port, as a node in global production networks, has increased in relevance and significance as a result of the spatial dispersion of production, the growing distance between production and consumption, and the subsequent need for transportation and logistics networks and gateways (Hesse & Rodrigue, 2004, 2006). On the other hand, the port economy itself engenders a spatially concentrated set of interdependent landside distribution activities, usually in urban settings (see Jacobs, Ducruet, & de Langen, 2010). Logistics related services are central to this concentrated activity, described by Bonacich and Wilson (2008:64) as “a special kind of industrial district, one geared to the process of international trade.” Rodrigue, Comtois, and Slack (2009) describe these areas as “freight distribution clusters where an array of distribution activities agglomerate” with the advantages of spatial proximity based on the factors of land, accessibility, infrastructure, planning and regulation, economies of agglomeration, and internal multiplying effects.

Within sociology generally, the greatest attention has been devoted to the processes of commodity production and consumption while there has been relative neglect of distribution and circulation (for notable recent exceptions see the work of Bonacich and Wilson, 2008; Bensman, 2008). Urban sociology has also tended to view cities as points of production and consumption. However, the growing prominence of the goods-movement industries necessitates greater attention to cities as “terminals” (Hesse, 2008) or “gateways” (Notteboom & Rodrigue 2005) through which the flow of commodities is coordinated. This paper advocates much more theoretical and empirical attention to the sphere of circulation and distribution, linked logically to the spheres of production and consumption, and the role of logistics as a potential growth machine.

Because container ship cargo coming from Asia, which makes up the vast majority of goods flooding into the US market, is “discretionary cargo” consisting largely of finished consumer goods, it is not linked or tied to any single geographic location. That is, it could as easily enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, though destined for the Midwest and the East coast (aka “landbridge”); similarly, cargo could be routed through the Panama Canal and into Jacksonville Florida or other East coast port to reach the same market. With cargo loaded into standardized shipping containers, and an intermodal truck and rail system capable of moving the containers rapidly throughout the United States, shippers and ocean carriers have a great deal of discretion over the port of call. This transformation in the nature of maritime cargo, and the loosening of the relationship between the port and its local economy and market, serve to intensify port competition which is now driven less by one’s particular geographic location than the port infrastructure, the costs of moving cargo, and the ability of the cargo to seamlessly move through an extended -- inter-organizationally and geographically -- supply chain (Fleming, 1989; Fleming & Baird, 1999; Notteboom, 2004; Jacobs, 2007). This means that promoting the growth of the port economy requires a different narrative and a different array of players. It is also consistent with the larger shift of sub-national governmental units -- such as cities, states, and counties – competing for private capital investment and playing less a “managerial” than an “entrepreneurial” role (Harvey, 1989).

We can now consider the particular case of Jacksonville in this larger context. Geographically, Jacksonville is located in the northeast corner of the state of Florida. The Jacksonville metropolitan area has a population of roughly 1.3 million. Downtown Jacksonville lies on the banks of the St. Johns River 15 miles west of where the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The river serves as the channel for the Jaxport marine terminals located at several points along its banks.

In 2005 Jaxport operated two major terminals; Talleyrand, located close to downtown Jacksonville, and Blount Island located closer to the mouth of the river. The cargo coming through these terminals was highly diversified among bulk, break-bulk, vehicles, and containers. The primary trade lane for Jaxport was North-South with the Caribbean and Central and South America, and with the leading trading partner Puerto Rico (which does not qualify as “foreign” trade). The relatively low level of container traffic, coupled with the almost exclusive North-South trade lanes, made Jaxport a relatively minor player in national port competition or among global port cities. In order for Jacksonville to move to the upper echelon of East Coast ports (with New York/New Jersey, Norfolk, Savannah) it would have to, first and foremost, attract some major ocean carriers, and move far more Asian, or East-West, container traffic.

A critical turning point for the Jacksonville port economy came when Jaxport retained John C. Martin Associates (Martin Associates, 2005) to conduct a business and strategic analysis of the Jaxport enterprise. Martin Associates is the leading consulting firm for maritime ports in the United States and they conduct most of the analyses and economic impact studies for port authorities. The report included a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of the Jaxport enterprise but, for the present purpose, the most significant component pertains to the recommendations for expanding the operation.

Clearly the most robust growth market with respect to containerized cargo is the Far East…With more shippers looking for diversification from the West Coast ports, other North and South Atlantic ports stand to benefit from the growth. JAXPORT appears to be a potential candidate due to the fact that it possesses the key factors that are attractive to Far East Carriers… It is recommended that the Port maintain its landlord status and focus on a shared investment with a tenant in the development of Dames Point. A long term lease with a carrier or terminal operator would then provide JAXPORT with the critical service to further develop distribution center activity in the Jacksonville region, further stimulating additional Asian carrier service, but also providing jobs to the local and regional economy.

Jaxport followed closely this recommendation and executed it to perfection. It signed agreements with two of the leading global Asian shipping lines – Mitsui MOL (Japanese) and Hanjin (Korean). Currently in place is a completed 158-acre container terminal (at a cost of $230 million) leased by Mitsui MOL (and operated by its TraPac subsidiary) and a second 90-acre Hanjin container terminal (original expected cost of $300 million) slated for completion in 2013, both at the newly developed Dames Point location. Each container terminal will be capable of an annual throughput of 800,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEUs) containers when operating at full throttle. This will move Jaxport into the major league of maritime ports. It was no easy task for Jaxport to pull off such an accomplishment but, as we shall see, there remain significant obstacles to the realization of a fully functioning port-driven growth machine.

Growth Coalitions and Boosterism

The pro-growth coalition promoting the port economy has been led by the Cornerstone Regional Development Partnership (renamed the JAXUSA Partnership), a private nonprofit organization affiliated with the regional chamber of commerce. The partnership includes relationships with development agencies in the seven county region of Northeast Florida, as well as the 200 top private sector corporate entities in the Jacksonville area. The staff of Cornerstone is dedicated to corporate relocation, expansion, and site selection. In their effort to market the region, they place a heavy emphasis on international business prospects, the port economy, and associated intermodal logistics opportunities. The language of boosterism can be found throughout the organization’s website:

  • The Jacksonville region is a “sleeping giant.

  • Jacksonville is positioned as a low-cost entry point for international businesses.

  • Jacksonville, Florida's emergence as one of the leading intermodal centers on the eastern seaboard comes as no surprise.

  • Jacksonville is rapidly becoming a significant international business center. Jacksonville is ideally suited to be your springboard to the world.
    Jacksonville has become one of the nation’s foremost locations for logistics companies and is poised to become a leading international center for trade and logistics.

  • Our region is home to JAXPORT, which offers superior infrastructure for high-volume distribution with no capacity pressures, substantial expansion capability and no berth congestion.

  • You simply won’t find another location that offers the combination of attributes Northeast Florida delivers. Here you’ll find a diverse workforce that is well trained and ready to work, available site in close proximity to an extensive transportation network and one of the country’s best intermodal systems.

Along with sloganeering boosterism, there are more concerted efforts by cities to construct symbolic representations of place (Shields, 1992) and engage in “place management” (Ashworth & Voogd, 1994) or the social construction of place. This has manifested itself into what is referred to as urban branding (Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2005 M. Kavaratzis and G.J. Ashworth, City branding: an effective assertion of identity or a transitory marketing trick?, Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 96 (5) (2005), pp. 506–514. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (17)Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2005) based on the larger principles of corporate branding. As part of the promotional campaign to redefine the regions economic strengths and attraction, economic development officials have branded Jacksonville as “America’s Logistics Center”, and effort that, like all good branding schemes, includes a distinctive logo (below).The newly developed branding logo has been placed at various strategic locations around Jacksonville.

In addition to the symbolic dimensions of boosterism there are also the very real material interests that fuel the growth machine and have a direct stake in the success of Jaxport. Consistent with this model, one of the most significant segments of the growth coalition are the land propertied elites. As plans for the two new container terminals were firming up, there was growing speculative investment in commercial real estate. Much of this has been in warehousing and distribution centers where the anticipated containerized goods can be cross-docked, reconsolidated, and value-enhanced for subsequent distribution. One typical example is 600,000 square foot plus speculative warehouse that will be built by Hillwood Investment Properties, a commercial real estate developer headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. These investments are shaping land use patterns across the region as well as placing future demands on the transportation infrastructure if the port realizes its long-term objectives. “If” is the operative word given some significant unanticipated challenges facing the port growth strategy.

Infrastructural Challenges and “Second Nature”

As noted, Jaxport was remarkably successful in implementing the consultants recommendations by signing long-term leases, and constructing container terminals, with Mitsui and Hanjin (two major Asian shipping giants). What is particularly interesting about the establishment of these relationships is that they were accomplished before all the “natural” conditions were in place for the full long-term utilization and realization of the two terminals. First, the St. Johns River channel is not currently at the necessary 50 foot depth required for the largest post-Panamax vessels to access the terminals. Second, the problem of tidal currents at the point at which the St Johns River intersects the Intracoastal Waterway, preventing a 24-hour window of port entry, has yet to be resolved. The first issue will require a massive dredging project; the second a substantial coastal engineering task. Optimally and more logically these two marine infrastructural components would have been in place in advance of signing agreements with the shipping lines. In fact, one might imagine that the shipping lines would be hesitant to enter into any agreement until such conditions were assured or met. However, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Jaxport to lobby for these massive public investments in the absence of a real concrete need for such significant modifications to the river. Thus, the decision was apparently made to put the terminal before the channel.

This may have been a strategic and calculated move that would allow Jaxport and local officials to strengthen the argument for the dredging and engineering projects, claiming that the existing terminals cannot function without them. What has conspired to complicate matters is the global recession and, subsequently, the potential for an extended phase of depressed global cargo traffic levels and overcapacity in U.S. port facilities. The Mitsui/Tra-Pac terminal, which opened in 2008, is operating far below its projected, and modest, estimates.

These challenges facing Jaxport and the Jacksonvlle port economy are a classic example of Cronon’s (1991) concept of “second nature”. Cronon’s analysis of the economic role played by Chicago in the development of the U.S. economy highlights how presumably natural advantages are used to promote the city as an attractive location for particular forms of economic activity. As Cronon explains: “A kind of ‘second nature’, designed by people and ‘improved’ toward human ends, gradually emerged atop the original landscape that nature – ‘first nature’ – had created as such an inconvenient jumble. Despite the subtly differing logic that lay behind each, the geography of second nature was in its own way as compelling as the geography of first nature, so boosters and others often forgot the distinction between them. Both seemed quite natural.” (p.56) In the case of Chicago, much was made of the role of the railroad as Chicagoans “assimilated the railroad to the doctrine of natural advantages, merging first and second nature so that the two became almost indistinguishable” with “first and second nature mingled to form a single world” (p. 72-73). Similarly, for Jacksonville and other ports along the Southeast Coast, other advantages must be cited that seem “natural” but are in fact of the “second nature” variety identified by Cronon. Often cited are the intrastate highways that offer north-south and east-west transit (I-95 and I-10, respectively) as well as the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail systems that link to national markets.

However, the most significant as well as challenging “natural” advantage that Jacksonville possesses is the St. Johns River feeding into the Atlantic Ocean. This gives Jacksonville an advantage over other locations that have no such access to marine transportation. Cronon adds to his analysis the fact that “Whatever the advantages of a particular landscape, people seem to always reshape it according to their vision of what it should be…the location with so many ‘advantages’ turned out to have some daunting disadvantages as well” (p.55). The port in Jacksonville was originally built and expanded to take advantage of this physical geographic asset of maritime access. Since the port’s inception, the river had to be modified and shaped in considerable ways in order to serve as a commercial conduit. Currently, and ironically, it is the “natural” features of the river that now pose the greatest obstacle to the realization of Jaxport as a growth machine. Modifications to the river (the most significant natural advantage) are underway to address the “inadequacies” of the St. Johns waterway so that it can accommodate the largest post-Panamax ships and allow 24 hour access to the port. This will require major public infrastructural projects related to dredging, deepening, and coastal engineering. Support for such projects through the kind of “boosterism” that Cronon cites in Chicago’s development, can be seen by the business press in Jacksonville.

The Local Business Press

The editorial board of the Jacksonville Business Journal (JBJ) has thrown down the gauntlet for Jacksonville’s economic development future. In “Game on for Jacksonville”, the journal argues that Jacksonville has received its “economic development marching orders” and they include, first and foremost, unwavering support for the half-billion dollar dredging project to deepen the St. Johns River so that the largest container ships will have access to the two new container terminals. There will also need to be significant investment in road and rail infrastructure to move the cargo. Without these two projects, Jacksonville can “watch the ports of Savannah, Charleston, and Norfolk eat our lunch”. The call-to-arms editorial finishes with a flourish: “If the Northeast Florida business communities need a rallying point, this is it. All businesses will benefit if Jacksonville becomes a major international East Coast port. Need a slogan? Try this: A deeper St. Johns floats all boats.”

The JBJ (Sept 18-24:33, 2009), in commenting on its editorial page about the potential trade friction with China, links the issue to the expanding port economy: “…rumblings of a trade war with China now that Jacksonville’s port is building its Asian trade ties through the recent opening of the TraPac terminal at Dames Point…China will be in position to take advantage. That way, all those ships unloading at the Port of Jacksonville will have more cargo to take back to China, which will make both countries stronger over time.”

On the navigational problems facing the intersection of the St Johns River and the intracoastal waterway, which will require a major coastal engineering project to remedy, the JBJ (Sept 4-10, 2009: 29) poses the issue this way:

Let’s see: Uninterrupted shipments vs. hours of delay. Result of findings: Project economically viable, funding approved.

If only it were this easy.

This is one case where Northeast Florida’s representatives in Washington should swing into action and put some pressure on the Army Corps bureaucracy to get this done quickly. Much is potentially at stake for our region’s economy. Don’t let the port’s expansion plans be compromised by unnecessary red tape.

This salvo, designed to galvanize the local business community, represents a familiar strategy in urban economic development. The JBJ returned to the port issue in a January 2010 editorial re-emphasizing the urgency of the situation: “But here’s the problem: If Jacksonville is not ready to receive the large ships from Asia in late 2014 when they start coming through the Panama Canal, it’s almost certain that other East Coast ports — Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk — will receive them with open arms. That’s not good. Jacksonville doesn’t want to have to play catch-up and try to lure those larger ships here after they have established connections at other ports”. (Jacksonville Business Journal, 2010, Jan 29, p.25).

Growth Pressures and Cost Estimates

Pressures to promote the port economy as a growth machine, that deserves widespread public support, can give rise to serious distortions in the communication of the costs and benefits of this development strategy.

Because the costs of channel dredging/deepening are significant, they are typically shared by federal and regional agencies. However, estimating the costs of such a project is itself a strategic and political process. Projects that are too costly may fail to generate the necessary public support or may fail to be approved by those in a position to do so. In the study of public works projects, there is considerable evidence that costs are routinely and systematically underestimated. According to Flyvbjerg et al.’s (2002) statistical analysis of 258 transportation infrastructure projects, cost estimates are not only highly and systematically misleading but the underestimation is best explained by intentional strategic misrepresentation (or, as they put it, “lying”). One aspect of the growth machine phenomenon that should be more widely considered is the extent to which growth machine coalitions supporting particular forms of public investment, that enable large-scale development projects, facilitate and encourage inaccurate and misleading cost (and benefit) estimates. In the case of various and proposed maritime infrastructure projects aimed at deepening the St Johns River to accommodate the larger vessels, there have been a range of estimates and re-estimates.

For Jaxport there are three major projects. The first, underway but not trouble-free, is the “Chaseville Turn” project designed to create a turning basin allowing large vessels to access the Talleyrand terminal which is located the furthest downriver. In December 2007 the estimated cost of the project was $22 million (Times-Union, 2007). In September 2008 it was reported (Times-Union, 2008a) that the project would cost $31 million (with the port responsible for $10 million). In November 2009 the local media reported an $18 million shortfall due to “incorrectly calculating the amount of material that would have to be dredged” and “weather-related runoff of silt into the river has added to the amount of material” (Times-Union, 2009a). In this same story, the original cost of this project, based on the contract awarded by the Army Corp, is listed at $46 million. This does not include the additional $18 million required to cover the shortfall. That would put the project cost at $64 million rather than the figure reported in 2007 of $22 million.

A second maritime infrastructure project is at “Mile Point” where the St. Johns River intersects with the Intracoastal Waterway. The swift currents at this location prevent vessels from entering the channel except during two four-and-a half-hour-long windows each day. This project has an estimated price tag of $25 to $50 million but has been delayed by the Army Corps due to questions about the efficacy of the original proposal to mitigate the impact of the tides and currents and the request for a more detailed analysis of the economic benefits of the project (Szakonyi, 2009).

The third and most significant project involves the deepening of the St Johns River channel to up to 50 feet from the mouth of the river to the new container terminals at Dames Point. This project will require a combination of dredging and blasting. The project will require Army Corp approval based on a cost-benefit analysis as well as review for environmental implications. Initial estimates in 2007 and 2008 placed the cost at around $400 to $500 million. More recently, the “rough estimate” has been increased to $600 million (Bauerlein, Times-Union, 2009). In January 2010 the figure increased to $1 billion (Szakonyi, 2010, Jan29-Feb 4).

The lengthy process involved in getting the approval of the Army Corp, and then actually completing the dredging/deepening project, has also become a major issue for the port and its customers. The Army Corp indicated in January of 2010 that the soonest post-Panamax vessels would be able to access the port is 2016. A Jaxport spokesmen responded: “2016 isn’t acceptable and we have to get closer to 2014.” The same report (Szakonyi, 2010, Jan29-Feb 4, p 1) noted that “If Jacksonville is late to have deep water access, the larger ships would go to other ports instead.” John Martin, head of the leading maritime port consulting firm added that, “It isn’t clear how much of the fleet will be requiring 50 feet, but if you don’t have 50 feet you can’t market to carriers to bring in the big ships.” In addition to the deepening project, the Mile Point navigational problem limiting access to the port requires even more immediate resolution than the deepening. The Army Corp must also authorize a project to remedy this navigational challenge.

A coalition of Jaxport, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and local business leaders has organized a lobbying campaign to pressure the Army Corp and congressional representatives to fund and shorten the timeline for the project approval and completion. Most recently, this campaign has developed a new slogan – “Bring The Noise”. While possibly inspired by the hit song of the same name by Public Enemy, it suggests an open invitation to deliver to Jacksonville what other port communities have learned to regret about a regional economy that depends on shipping and logistics – audio, air, and water pollution complemented with truck-clogged highways (see Matsuoka, Hricko, Gottlieb, & De Lara 2011). The mission of the new campaign, that claims to have mobilized the community to write 14,000 letters to public officials in support of the port and the funding of the infrastructural projects is “to mobilize North Florida’s competitive spirit to drive port progress, a stronger economy, and a better quality of life because everyone has a stake in the port’s growth and together we are more than the sum of our parts”. The “title sponsor” of the campaign is England-Thims & Miller Inc. a Jacksonville-based firm specializing in the management of large-scale infrastructure projects. Other sponsors include CSX, a rail and intermodal transportation company; the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors; RS&H, a facilities and infrastructure consulting firm; Degrove Surveyors, Inc., a land and hydrographic surveying consultant; HDR, an architecture, engineering, consulting, construction and related services company; and Taylor Engineering, a coastal engineering firm. In short, the local community has been asked to actively lobby in support of a project by the very economic interests that stand to gain the most from the infrastructural projects.


This paper has attempted to develop a preliminary analysis of an urban growth strategy employing the growth machine and “boosterism” models of urban development and political economy. The focus is on the rise of an economic sector – goods-moving and logistics – that has received insufficient attention from sociologists. The urban case – Jacksonville Florida and the port economy – provides considerable support for the efficacy of the growth machine model of urban development and the associated tactics of boosterism to gain broader community support.

There are several key aspects of this urban growth strategy that have been identified and that will be the focus of further study. First, consistent with original growth machine formulations, the coalition of business interests, particularly land-based elites with an interest in rising property values and speculative commercial real estate investment, play an important role in the promotion of the port. For this particular economic sector, warehousing and distribution centers serve as major claimants on urban land use. The critical role of infrastructural development, as necessary conditions for the realization of the port economy, stimulates the active involvement of coastal engineering firms in the promotional effort as seen most clearly in the “Bring The Noise” campaign that is currently underway.

Second, the business press – represented most prominently by the Jacksonville Business Journal – has consistently called for a more aggressive lobbying effort in ensuring that the port economies full potential comes to fruition and that the necessary infrastructural projects get sufficient Federal funding and top priority among dredging projects.

Third, the boosterism that designates urban and regional places as possessing special physical and geographically unique qualities has been a major part of the Jaxport campaign, as well as the self-proclaimed branding of the region as “America’s Logistics Center”.

Finally, a unique aspect of the Jacksonville case is found in the “natural” impediments to the port economy growth strategy represented by a channel that is too shallow for the desired container ships and coastal tidal currents that prevent around the clock access to the container terminals. Altering and modifying the “natural” environment and creating a “second nature” for the purposes of commercial interests.

How each of these factors will play out in the continuing effort by the City of Jacksonville and the associated port economy growth coalition to build a national logistics hub will be the focus of continuing research on this urban community.


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