A bridge collapse has cut off nearly every dock in Baltimore’s harbor from the global shipping industry, but one deepwater port with a 50-foot channel and connections to major railways is preparing to get busier than ever.

Tradepoint Atlantic on Sparrows Point is the only major shipping site within the Port of Baltimore that lies outside the Francis Scott Key Bridge. A decade ago, it was an industrial graveyard, the site of a shuttered steel plant. Today, it is a rapidly expanding logistics center that is trying to once again become the economic engine of the Baltimore region.

Now, it faces its greatest challenge.

For the foreseeable future, Tradepoint Atlantic will be the only exit and entry point for the global shipping into Baltimore.

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Wreckage from the Key Bridge has blocked the main channel into the Port of Baltimore, and there is no timeline on when that channel might reopen.

The immediate focus has been the recovery of six missing construction workers who were repairing potholes on the Key Bridge at the time of its collapse. There is also a federal investigation into the ship that struck the bridge. It’s unclear when authorities will clear the wreckage, dredge the channel and fully reopen one of America’s busiest ports.

Industry insiders hope this will take weeks. They fear it could last months. Until then, the only option locally is Tradepoint Atlantic.

On Wednesday morning, the Wolfsburg, a 650-foot ship carrying thousands of Volkswagen cars, arrived at Sparrows Point, marking the first cargo delivery to the Port of Baltimore since the Key Bridge collapse.

What made Sparrows Point attractive for steelmaking is the same reason underpinning the success of Tradepoint Atlantic today: location.

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The sprawling waterfront campus in southeastern Baltimore County has easy access to a global shipping channel, interstate highways and rail lines stretching across America. The company was already planning to build a new marine terminal with a 3,000-foot-long wharf, a massive undertaking that would drastically increase capacity at the Port of Baltimore.

Tradepoint Atlantic officials declined an interview request. In a statement, the company said it has been in contact with more shipping firms and plans to take on more vessels and cargo.

In a White House press briefing Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg singled out Tradepoint Atlantic, while acknowledging that Baltimore’s economy is about to take a huge hit.

“There is a facility at what’s called Sparrows Point that can handle some amount of cargo shipping,” Buttigieg told reporters. “But nothing close to the totality of Baltimore.”

More than 15,000 people are directly employed at the Port of Baltimore. Buttigieg estimated that 8,000 people will temporarily be out of work, costing them $2 million in lost wages each day.

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Cargo worth hundreds of millions of dollars is being diverted elsewhere, and the impact on workers and businesses in Greater Baltimore could be “devastating” — a word used by two experts on opposite ends of the region’s supply chain.

Every item that moves through the port — whether it’s a car, electric bike or bag of sugar ― has a snowball effect. Their movement creates millions of dollars of economic activity and supports thousands of jobs: The crane operator. The short-haul truck driver. The security guard at the warehouse. The food truck operator. The gas station owner.

Each of these people and their employers will spend less money, draw on their savings, and pay less in taxes.

Using prior data released by the state government, Daraius Irani, chief economist for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, estimated that the Baltimore region would lose about $11 million to $15 million in economic activity in the Baltimore region each day if the Port of Baltimore closed. That translates to about $1.1 million to $1.5 million in state and local tax revenues lost as well, he said.

Increased traffic at Tradepoint Atlantic will offset some of those losses, but not all.

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The clock is ticking for Scott Cowan and the 2,400 members of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333, a union that represents the workers who load and unload ships.

Cowan, the local union president, said there were relatively few ships in the port at the time of the bridge collapse, and crews are unloading the remaining cargo onboard right now.

“That will run out quickly,” he said, creating a “catastrophic” situation for the people in his union, not to mention the thousands of other workers directly and indirectly employed by the port.

Ned Brady is a commercial real estate broker at Lee & Associates, specializing in leasing and selling warehouses throughout the Baltimore region. Everybody is scrambling to figure out what a partial closure of the Port of Baltimore will mean for their business, Brady said. He estimated that within two weeks, some warehouse workers won’t have any products to load or unload.

“If we don’t get the channel open quickly, it’s going to be devastating to the market,” Brady said.

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Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333.

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