Friday, December 6, 2019

Free trade advocate Jimmy Lyons retiring from Alabama State Port Authority

Jimmy Lyons will retire from his Director/CEO position at the Alabama State Port Authority effective December 31, 2020. His departure ends a 23-year transition from the Port of Mobile's focus on coal and agricultural & forest products into a diversified facility. and coal in which he led the transformation of the port of Mobile into a container gateway.

The Port Authority has a conservatively estimated $22 billion impact on national, regional and local (combined) economic activity. That impact is expected to grow over the next decade as the port capitalizes on improved infrastructure.

Lyons also stewarded the Authority's role as the non-federal partner for the Mobile Harbor Deepening Project, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to widen and deepen the ship channel from just south of Dauphin Island to the container terminal (located well south of the I-10 and Bankhead Tunnels).

The Port of Mobile expansion and the deepening project are examples of public and private partnerships that have tangible and easily measured economic benefits exceeding their economic costs. Both the port expansions and the channel deepening projects were studied openly and publicly, with their economic and environmental effects published almost every step of the way. We knew what we were getting.  

Contrast the Port's expansion with the ill-advised, poorly-planned and economically infeasible Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project, which spectacularly crashed and burned last summer thanks to the grassroots efforts of the Block the Mobile Bayway Toll Group on Facebook.

Lyons' term at the Port Authority has not been free of controversy. In early 2006, then Governor Bob Riley put the brakes on a deal to develop facilities at the Port of Mobile in conjunction with Gulftainer, a privately held United Arab Emirates firm seeking to invest in U.S. seaports. The mere possibility of such a deal sent conspiracy nuts into near apoplexy over not much.

Lyons is also a doctrinaire free trade advocate. When President Donald Trump announced plans for tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel products, Lyons' reaction was swift and clear. “My greatest fear all along has been that an action like this could lead to retaliation that could affect our exports. I’m afraid that’s where it could lead us,” said Jimmy Lyons, CEO at the Alabama State Port Authority. “In a trade war, there are no winners.”

That of course, depends on the strategic objective of the "trade war" belligerents. If the objective is to protect native industries from cheap foreign competition, Lyons is absolutely correct. Markets adjust, prices go up, but commerce continues. But if the objectives include effecting a foreign policy that exports real liberty and real free trade, perhaps short term pain may be worth long term gain. Perhaps Lyons is speaking in two dimensions while President Trump is acting in three.

Lyons' replacement is expected to be named in June, and the plan is to allow a six-month or so transition and change of leadership. The hire may be one of the most important personnel changes in decades for Mobile and the state.

h/t Jim Ziegler


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