MANATEE -- A crowd joined Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen on Thursday for a tour of Port Manatee, coming away with raves about its job potential.
Gallen, whose commission district extends from Bradenton north almost to the port, hosted the morning tour for area residents, businesspeople and civic leaders.
"It was very informative, and with Commissioner Gallen, we're looking at some great employment opportunities here," said Susie Copeland, president of the Manatee Chapter of the NAACP.
William "Bill" Dever, a representative for business development for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was enthusiastic about the port's expansion
"We'd love to do electrical work out here," he said.
Tour-goers rode on a tram, listening to a fact-filled narration provided by port tour manager George Mendez, who also is a member of the Manatee County Planning Commission.
They heard about various products shipped into the port, such as aluminum, salt and produce.
He pointed out ships loading cargo; an old cruise terminal that closed in 2003; and where various docks were located.
The Harris Intermodal Complex was named in honor of the late County Commissioner Lari Ann Harris, who was a big supporter of the port.
A grassy field adjacent to the docks will some day be a big storage yard for cargo containers, Mendez said.
The port itself employs 75 workers, but its tenants, such as the international produce giant Del Monte, employ about 1,500.
Located north of Palmetto, near the Hillsborough County line, the port isn't really on people's radar, said Gallen. The tour was meant to provide exposure for community leaders, who might not be familiar with the port.
"I grew up in here, and didn't even know we had a port," he said. "A lot of folks don't realize the opportunity here."
For information about a free, behind-the-scenes look at Port Manatee on an open-air public tram tour, go to the port's website at www.portmanatee.com/tours, or call 941-722-6621 between 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays.
Reservations are required. The tour season began Oct. 21 and ends May 7. Tours last about 75 minutes, and are offered at 10 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.