Double-digit trade growth pushes Port Manatee toward $750M year

mjohnson@bradenton.comJuly 7, 2014 

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FILE: The ship Ouro de Brasil recently unloaded of its bulk cargo of orange juice at Port Manatee. The port has acquired new tenants and positioned itself for future business by expanding Berth 12 and building a 52-acre container yard so the port can recruit more container businesses. GRANT JEFFERIES/ Bradenton Herald

GRANT JEFFERIES — gjefferies@bradenton.com Buy Photo

PORT MANATEE -- Even after losing one of its major bulk cargo clients in January, Port Manatee is nonetheless on its way to a record-breaking import and export year in 2014.

According to U.S. Census data compiled and analyzed by trade data publisher WorldCity Trade Numbers, the port has imported and exported $257.57 million in goods in the first four months of the year, an increase of more than 17 percent over the same period in 2013. Exports increased by 25.68 percent, while imports were up 14.35 percent.

The high cargo value number comes as the port recovers from the loss of 635,000 tons of annual bulk fertilizer shipments for agrichemical giant Mosaic. Mosaic shifted its fertilizer shipping operations to other ports in the Tampa Bay area. The port previously earned about $940,000 a year from the company's shipping and storage operations.

Even without Mosaic, the port handled 2.3 million tons in cargo in the first four months of 2014, compared with 2.4 million for the same time last year. And despite the drop in tonnage, port revenues are up. The port earned $898,761 in revenue from commodities coming into and leaving the port between January and April. That is up about $113,000 from the same period in 2013, according to port spokeswoman Virginia Zimmermann.

High-value goods including aluminum and lumber contributed to the high value of traded goods, says Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras. The numbers, plus expected business in the near future, will likely have the port "heading upwards toward $1 billion in the next two to three years."

"It's a reflection of the economic expansion," Buqueras said.

Among the 12 deepwater Florida ports ranked by Coral Gables-based WorldCity, Port Manatee ranked eighth in trade volume. Port Ever

glades in Fort Lauderdale took the top spot at $8.75 billion, ranking 35th in the nation among 450 ports surveyed. Port Manatee ranks 156th in the nation while its closest competing port, Port Tampa Bay, was 101st on a trade volume of $1.51 billion.

Port Los Angeles is the nation's biggest trading port. It imported and exported $93.52 billion in goods between January and April.

Overall, data on Florida's ports show trade expanding -- explosively at some. While the state's top three ports -- Everglades, Port Miami and JaxPort -- notched only single-digit growth, small ports saw trade jump as much as 37 percent year over year.

Buqueras said some of the big gainers for Port Manatee included imports of wood pulp and aluminum, commodities for which the port can charge higher tariffs compared to some bulk commodities, such as fertilizer. The port also maintained its volumes of its top commodity, fruit. During the first part of the year, imports and exports of fruit products accounted for more than $100 million of the port's trade volume. Fresh Del Monte readies much of that fruit for market at its Port Manatee processing facility.

Four of the port's five top trading partners are South American nations. They accounted for $183 million of the trade during the period profiled by WorldCities. Trade with the port's No. 1 partner, Costa Rica, has jumped 49.7 percent since 2013 to over $77 million.

Although Port Manatee currently earns the bulk of its cargo revenue from shipments of commodities, Buqueras said the port is making efforts to attract more high-value shipping, including finished goods such as automobiles. The Pasha Group, an automobile exporter, has tentative plans to base a vehicle shipping center on 10 acres of port property.

Another type of finished machinery is expected to drastically boost port trade volume in the next 18 to 24 months. Air Products, a manufacturer of natural gas heat exchangers, opened a new manufacturing plant across the street from the port in January. It has plans to ship its 100-yard-long machines out of Port Manatee. Each of the exchangers is worth approximately $100 million, Buqueras said.

WorldCities Trade Numbers was founded by Ken Roberts, a former newspaper reporter and editor who worked for both the Bradenton Herald and the Miami Herald. In operation since 1998, the company posts about 4,000 pages of data monthly concerning U.S. trade with the rest of the world. In addition to generating port rankings and summarizing their imports and exports, WorldCities tracks 900 import products and 900 export products.

The source data the Census Bureau uses to calculate trade numbers come from documentation freight forwarders are required to turn over to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The full results of WorldCities data survey can be found at ustradenumbers.com.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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