Port Manatee officials see Amazon as big chance

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- A huge Amazon warehouse slated for construction in Ruskin has the full attention of Port Manatee officials.

At Thursday's port authority meeting, officials said they want to do business with the company, which is among the world's largest retailers. The Amazon warehouse would be located just across the Hillsborough County line from the port.

Shipping the huge retailer's goods by water through the port would be much cheaper than transporting them any other way.

"Books are very heavy, normally," said Carlos Buqueras, port executive director. "Are they aware with what could happen with them here?"

Buqueras said he envisioned bringing items on container ships to the port and distributing goods throughout the United States -- as well as exporting to 12 million Cubans when the island nation 90 miles from Florida once again is allowed free trading with the United States.

The U.S. embargo against the Communist country has endured for more than 50 years, but a trade thaw has been evident in recent years and Buqueras is readying Port Manatee for the Cuban market's eventual re-opening.

Buqueras said Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., is half Cuban.

"We encourage you to proceed with that," said Carol Whitmore, port authority chairwoman.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Amazon announced a deal last week in which the Internet retail giant would create 3,000 new jobs in Florida by 2016 -- with about one-third of those likely headed for a 1-million-square-foot warehouse in Ruskin,

"Amazon's commitment to create more than 3,000 new jobs in Florida is further proof that we've turned our economy around," Scott said in a statement. "Amazon will continue to work with (state officials) on its ongoing projects, which will include a return on any taxpayer investment, and we look forward to the company's announcements as it chooses locations."

Amazon is expected to create 1,000 jobs in the South Shore area of Ruskin near State Road 674 and Interstate 75, and invest up to $200 million in a massive state-of-the-art facility.

Of the 1,000 jobs, 375 would be "higher-wage quality jobs," officials said, with average annual pay of $47,581.

In other port news, at least two businesspeople expressed an interest in partnering with the port to build a giant cold storage warehouse.

Ross Maple, director of business strategy for Nordic Logistics and Warehousing LLC, was sitting in the audience Thursday as the port authority opened its meeting. He had driven down from Atlanta, he said.

"I'm here to find out more about what the port is doing," he said, adding his firm had just opened a giant freezer facility at a port in Savannah, Ga.

The authority formally accepted a grant of more than $2 million from the Florida Department of Transportation to help build the giant cold storage warehouse.

Another $2.46 million from FDOT brought the project's total funding to $5.448 million, according to port documents.

The port is seeking companies to invest with it under a public-private partnership. The facility would handle imported or exported perishable commodities -- fruits and vegetables, Buqueras has said.

The money will be used as a matching fund to attract a private company or companies to partner on a 50-50 basis, he said. The advantage to the port would be construction of a state-of-the-art facility that would be a major hub for distribution of perishable commodities, Buqueras said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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