Port Manatee: Full steam ahead for 2011

ggagliano@bradenton.comDecember 23, 2010 

PALMETTO

Port Manatee has a full slate of projects ahead for 2011.

Improvements to the south port area will be under way, port staff and consultants will work on identifying new business consistent with the Panama Canal expansion, and the Manatee County Port Authority will search for a successor to port Director David McDonald, who retires in January 2012.

2010 brought a wealth of fortunate news for the port. It was awarded $15 million in federal and state grants to develop the south port area. The port also gained business from several new tenants that include Martin Marietta and Port Dolphin. A new aggregate terminal by Martin Marrietta, set up in the fall, is expected to bring in $600,000 to $700,000 annually. And payments from Port Dolphin, a natural gas pipeline to run from about 30 miles off Anna Maria Island to Port Manatee, are projected to be nearly $1 million next year.

Still, 2010 was one of the most difficult for the Palmetto facility as construction commodities were in a lull. Lumber commodities declined an estimated 60 to 70 percent at Port Manatee, McDonald estimates.

“Anything to do with construction was a hardship,” McDonald said. “But we remained stable throughout the recession. I see a lot of positive on the horizon for 2011.”

Dredging to begin

In the first quarter of 2011, dredging will begin at Berth 12 with the financial aid of a $9 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

The dredging at the port’s south channel will be the beginning of a series of planned improvements at Berth 12 that include extending the berth to 1,600 feet and developing a 52-acre container yard by 2013 in preparation for the 2014 completion of the Panama Canal expansion.

The Panama Canal expansion is expected to reshape trade routes so much so that Gov.-elect Rick Scott is considering a proposal by the Florida Chamber of Commerce to expand the state’s seaports and airports in an effort to create jobs.

Florida chamber report

The Florida Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 15 released a study proposing that the state work toward developing and identifying which port will be the first stop for Asian container ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal.

The chamber says the most ideal seaport would be one with 50 feet of water, efficient land side connections and available land for new development.

Steve Tyndal, senior director of trade development and special projects at Port Manatee, said Port Manatee would want to be that first port of call.

Such decisions are influenced more by liner services preferences, Tyndal noted, which is why Port Manatee is trying to align itself with more liner services.

The chamber’s study projects that seaport improvements, coupled with the canal expansion, has the potential to double container flow through Florida. If that occurs, the chamber study projects an additional 32,000 jobs would be created in the state’s trade and logistics sector.

$1.4 billion impact

Port Manatee has an annual economic impact that’s estimated at $1.4 billion for Manatee County. Its impact is an estimated $2.3 billion when looking at the six-county region that includes Manatee, Sarasota, Hillsborough, Polk and Hardee counties. And a total of 14,000 jobs can be traced to the port’s activities.

But port officials are looking at ways to boost those numbers.

With that, 2011 will be a key year for the port to analyze its business model as well as market the facility to carriers.

Port Manatee has several new hires who will be working on business development in the year ahead.

On the analysis side, the New York-based consulting firm Arup plans to bring a final report to the Port Authority in the first quarter that will analyze the port’s current business model and future opportunities.

The consulting firm has been around the Palmetto facility since November meeting with tenants, land owners, shipping lines and reviewing the port’s infrastructure to develop a report recommending future business opportunities for Port Manatee.

“I can assure you it’s a fairly comprehensive look at the port and its operational facilities,” said Yuval Cohen, project manager for Arup. “The next step will be to continue to refine and report on the market forecast and develop a business case that looks at future development and expansion at the port.”

The key findings in the report will be Arup’s evaluation of the risks and rewards involved in a long-term lease, concession or other public-private partnership for Port Manatee’s expansion and development.

International sales

The Manatee County Port Authority also hired a director of international sales, Matty Appice.

Appice’s role will be to develop strategies for increasing new and existing commodities to the port with an emphasis on container cargo, given the 52-acre container yard that has been proposed at Port Manatee’s south port area.

“Part of that will include increasing liner services which is in conjunction with our current plans for the development of Berth 12,” Appice said.

“I believe we’ll be able to attract some carriers that would call on Manatee to make it very attractive to retailers like Bealls and distribution centers.”

Replacing McDonald

In the midst of all this new business development, the Manatee County Port Authority also will have to work on selecting a new port director to replace McDonald, who has worked at Port Manatee for 35 years.

The process officially begins this January when the port authority plans to look for an executive recruiting firm.

The firm, which is expected to be selected by March, will be responsible for finding qualified candidates to succeed McDonald.

The port authority is expected to interview candidates in June and hire a new port director in October.

McDonald plans to remain on staff until January 2012 to mentor the new director and assist Port Manatee’s transition under a new leader.

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