By Amy Skalmusky, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Discussing the Superporto do Açu, is an exercise in the superlative – the biggest port complex of its type in the world, largest investment in port infrastructure in Latin America, greatest GDP growth for a region, among others. Located near the oil-rich Campos Basin in São João da Barra, the project’s completion in 2012 promises to optimize mineral exportation and transportation activities as well as usher in a period of unprecedented growth for the small fishing town in the north of Rio de Janeiro state.
The Superporto do Açu, a US$1.6 billion project developed by LLX, a logistics company owned by Brazil’s richest man, Eike Batista, is an impressive effort to improve the freight transport infrastructure and support the country’s growing trade links with China, the U.S. and others.
Deemed a “one-stop-shop,” the 90-kilometer square area (about 1.5 the size of Manhattan) will provide everything necessary for the production, processing, storage and transport of materials such as steel, iron ore, oil, slag, granite among others, as well as specialized companies to assist with regulations and customs clearance.
The port area of Açu will have a 2.9 kilometer-long bridge with 10 docking berths, which will be able to accommodate the latest generation of super-ships, including 380-meter-long Chinamax vessels with a reported capacity of 400,000 tons of cargo.
Since construction began in 2007, the Superporto do Açu has been attracting the attention of Brazilian and foreign investors.
Companies such as Korea’s Hyundai, China’s Wuhan Iron and Steel Company and Italy’s Ternium have confirmed participation in the project. Along with a complete logistic infrastructure nearby, businesses within in the complex will receive a reduced ICMS (merchandise circulation VAT tax) rate.
Most would consider a mega project like the Superporto do Açu a windfall for the town of São João da Barra, population 30,000. It is estimated that the project will generate over 50,000 jobs, increase the gross domestic income (PIB – Produto Interno Bruto) of the area by 500 percent and inflate the population to 250,000 by 2025.
“It seems that there are two camps. One is reluctant and other is excited and trying to integrate the community with the project,” said Steve Rubens, a real estate lawyer familiar with São João da Barra.
Many fear that the economic growth of the city will also bring the increased violence and illegal housing constructions that plague the nearby cities of Macaé and Campos.
However, the situation in São João da Barra differs from that of Macaé. Much of the land in São João da Barra is private and less prone to illegal construction. The city also has a bigger budget, thanks to the greater tax revenue and petroleum royalties, to prepare itself for expansion.
Since 2005, the local government has been investing in worker training and education programs in hopes of preparing the population for the new job perspectives.
Local government also set aside almost R$90 million in 2009 for infrastructure improvements, such as expanding sewage and water treatment plants, hospitals and schools and paving roads. It’s estimated that over the next fifteen years the city will need to provide over 84,000 new houses, and 626 hospital beds, and 799 classrooms.
Investments are also being made in securing community buy-in. Pamphlets, presentations and workshops are all part of the efforts that have been put forth by local government in conjunction with LLX to educate and involve the community in the project.
As the 2012 inauguration date draws closer, the combined private and public efforts are working to guarantee that the Superporto do Açu will not only promote business, but ensure the prosperity and integrity of the surrounding community.