• Panama Canal Widening Could Bring Money Into Fla.

    CENTRAL FLORIDA,None - The widening of the Panama Canal is a bigger deal for Central Florida's economy than you could imagine. Crews are widening the canal to allow mega cargo ships to pass through, and believe it or not,it could mean 100,000 local jobs.

    Central Florida has such a huge opportunity in Panama that could change the way the world does business with the U.S.

    It takes most ships 24 hours to get through the Pacific side of the canal. Once larger ships are able to navigate the canal, they have to unload somewhere.

    If they can stop in Florida, it could change the way all of us live. It's an incredible feat of engineering, and now, the series of locks that make up the 48-mile-long Panama Canal is getting an upgrade that could send money flowing into Florida.

    "We can see that Florida is really interested in the impact of the expansion and how it can take advantage of the opportunities that it will bring," Rodolfo Sabonge of the Panama Canal Authority said.

    Canal officials such as Sabonge, who met with WFTV, have also been hosting Florida business leaders coming to see work to widen the canal.

    Much like the original construction of the Panama Canal nearly 100 years ago the billion-dollar expansion project allowing wider access at both ends of the canal, will bring on a historic shift in shipping patterns.

    A lot of the things you buy that are "made in China" or other parts of Asia, go through the Panama Canal. But now more than a third of the world's cargo ships are too big to fit through the canal. Once that changes, the amount of goods coming through there and on their way to Florida could triple.

    "The economic impact will be huge," said Carmenza Gonzalez of the Metro Orlando EDC.

    Local experts said Florida is in the perfect position to capitalize. If Port Canaveral, for example, was upgraded to handle larger ships and more traffic, it could transform the area into a hub for global trade and manufacturing.

    "It'll increase 32,000 jobs for trade and logistics and 111,000 jobs in advance manufacturing," said Bob Provitola of GM Mitsubishi Power Systems.

    Average salaries could run from $50,000 to $70,000 a year. Sabonge has already visited Orlando, Tampa and Miami in the last month to tell others about what's coming, and many believe it's the single best hope for Florida's struggling economy.

    "It may be an opportunity for us to not only stabilize, but turn things around and recover," said Jim Williams, VP of North American Manufacturing, Mitsubishi.

    Canal officials told WFTV that the widening project is on schedule and under budget. Bigger ships will start coming through there in 2014, and that means the window of opportunity for Florida to take action is open.

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