Port Manatee leader emphasizes being ready for recovery

chawes@bradenton.comOctober 14, 2011 

PALMETTO -- In his final address to the Propeller Club he helped create six years ago, Port Manatee Executive Director David McDonald offered a message Thursday that would be inspiring to almost anyone in today’s struggling economy.

“You’ve got to believe it’s coming back,” said McDonald, who is retiring in January after 20 years leading Port Manatee. “The question is, are you ready, or are you just waiting for it to come back?”

McDonald outlined to the group of maritime businesspeople how Port Manatee’s focus on creating a master plan, which was just completed last year, has helped the port improve its capacity by 50 percent over the past decade.

The port has added eight berths and completed five million cubic yards of dredging, to ensure it’s able to handle larger ships and larger cargo from growing markets like the Panama Canal. It has added 765,000 square feet of warehouse space.

“We have assets that, going into the recession, we didn’t have,” McDonald said.

He emphasized how the port has made a priority of preserving the environment during its expansion of facilities, investing $14 million and successfully moving five acres of seagrass, “one of the most successful seagrass plants in the history of the state of Florida,” McDonald said.

His message is especially timely, McDonald told the group, because the port is in the midst of seeking his replacement. Six finalists, chosen out of more than 80 applicants, will be interviewed by the Port Authority next week, and a new executive director is slated to be chosen by November.

“The next director has to take you to the next level while you’re enjoying the fruits of your labors,” McDonald said.

He closed his speech at the Bradenton Yacht Club by sharing some of the future port improvements already underway. Port Manatee, one of only seven ports nationwide to receive a major federal grant last year, is about to apply for a second grant from the same program and will use the money to expand its newest berth, add paved area to handle container cargo and improve its rail system.

The port is also completing plans to build a connector to Interstate 75, a key step to ensure that the port never finds itself trapped by the development expected to grow around Port Manatee over the next decade.

“For the next 10 years,” McDonald told the group, “you’ve got to be building for tomorrow.

Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.

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