FLORIDA PORTS 2006 - Jacksonville shipping leader “saddles up” for opportunities

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTPaul Robbins is not afraid to make a wholehearted commitment to seize an opportunity – be it selling his Harley Davidson motorcycle for $10,000 to get his Jacksonville shipping enterprise started or, most recently, coming up with $22 million to build a “super-crossdock” facility.
“In 1993, when my wife, Julie, and I decided to start our business, I made a commitment to sell my Harley-Davidson to secure the computer hardware and software we needed,” said Robbins. Robbins and his wife share the chief executive officer title of a pair of related Jacksonville-based companies, Caribbean Shipping Services and Caribbean Cold Storage.
They got $10,000 for the Harley, added a $7,000 cash advance on their Visa card and thus were able to leave the food-shipping firm they were working for and set out on the road to success with their own enterprise to serve Jacksonville’s healthy refrigerated and frozen cargo trade to Puerto Rico.
Caribbean Shipping is the largest locally owned shipper to Puerto Rico, according to officials of the Jacksonville port, which boasts a 70% share of all trade between the US mainland and the island commonwealth.
It hasn’t always been an easy ride, but, with the Jacksonville Port Authority looking to expand its horizons with Asia container service by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. (MOL), Robbins sees a chance for his enterprises to grow some more.
Last summer, as MOL announced plans to open a new 160-acre container facility at JAXPORT’s Dames Point Marine Terminal by late 2007, Robbins was announcing plans for a merger with Eagle Logistics Systems, a leading supplier of dry goods to Puerto Rico.
As he put his companies through an “unbundling process,” separating on paper his operations by function, Robbins recognized his business model has evolved into more one of consolidation and throughput rather than warehousing. He also noted that his real estate portfolio included an 18.5-acre parcel a couple of miles North of the entrance to Dames Point – a parcel whose development he sees as a more urgent priority than proceeding with the proposed merger.
With the merger on the back burner, but still on the figurative stove, Robbins has announced plans to have a 200,000-square-foot, 122-door “super-crossdock” facility in place on the 18.5-acre tract, accompanied by a trucking terminal and office space. The intended opening of December 2007, meshes perfectly with MOL’s startup date. The property, along Alta Drive, is directly off an exit of State Road 9-A, which is soon to be upgraded to become Interstate 295.
The blueprints for the Alta Drive site call for freezer space, cooler space and an area with ambient temperature for dry cargoes. The site would augment the existing cold distribution facility in a 85,000-square-foot building on 7 acres at 1505 Dennis St., 15 miles to the Southwest in a warehouse district on the West fringe of downtown Jacksonville. The Dennis Street site is where Caribbean’s 50-truck fleet is currently based.
Caribbean Shipping and Cold Storage business has been heavily skewed toward outbound moves, but Robbins noted that the Asian service should change that.
“What Mitsui does is really balance the inbound cargo with the outbound cargo,” he said.
In addition to the Jacksonville operations, the dual firms have satellite offices in Miami, San Juan, Charlotte, NC, and Howell, NJ. A logistics staff of 70 manages moves of some eight million pounds of food product a week.
Caribbean Shipping twice has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of 100 fastest-growing inner-city companies. Last May, Paul Robbins was presented with the maritime person of the year award from the Jacksonville chapter of the Propeller Club of the United States.
That honor came two months after Caribbean was certified as an export distributor for Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands Inc. – the parent company behind KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s – making Caribbean one of only three US companies authorized to distribute the fast-food fr

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.