PORT MANATEE -- Automobile processor Pasha Automotive Services predicted this week -- as it courted a vehicle manufacturer interested in bringing its shipping and finishing facility here -- that it is six to eight months away from starting a vehicle import-export operation at Port Manatee.
There's only one catch: Pasha has to successfully bid for enough of that manufacturer business to make the operation work.
It is the first time the multi-national logistics company has said when it expects to bring its business, and potentially hundreds of jobs, to Manatee County's seaport.
Ben Buben, the company's executive director of operations and business development, confirmed the timing while declining to comment on which car companies might use Manatee County as its Florida import-export site.
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With nearly 20 Mexican auto manufacturing plants on track to produce about 5 million vehicles a year, Buben said Port Manatee is the closest, most convenient port for bringing those cars to the United States.
"It's the closest port to Mexico of any of the ports in Florida," he said.
Pasha Automotive, a division of San Rafael, Calif.-based Pasha Group, signed a memorandum of under
standing with the port last fall in which the company enumerated facilities it would need to process vehicles in Manatee County. Until this week, it hadn't said when it would begin operations.
Pasha currently operates out of ports and cities in nine U.S. states, according to its website. The agreement with Port Manatee will put Pasha's processing and detailing operations in a 174,000-square foot warehouse and will have the company using a 10-acre, paved pad to store vehicles. Total parking space will be 45 acres with an option to expand to 100.
The processing operation, which will do everything from install dealer options into new cars to putting cars on carrier trucks and ships, is expected to employ 100 to 200 people.
The timeframe was the second piece of Pasha-related good news the port got this week. According to port officials, Pasha executives brought representatives of a car manufacturer thought to be a potential client to Manatee County late Tuesday. Pasha and port officials took them on a tour of facilities the company may one day use to store and ship new and used vehicles between Florida and Mexico, South America and Central America.
Carol Whitmore, the chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority, declined to identify the "major, major, major" car company after posting news of a three-way meeting between port officials, Pasha and the car company to her Facebook account.
But she did say that the car company officials liked what they saw.
"They were very impressed with the location here," Whitmore said. "It was a good meeting."
Dave Sanford, the port's deputy executive director, said the meeting and tour were similar to events last October when Pasha brought several car companies to see port facilities. Port officials have identified only one of those companies, Volkswagen. Pasha, which is generally tight lipped about its client list, has also acknowledged that one of its ongoing clients is the Chrysler Group.
Sanford said the port has not yet signed a facilities lease with Pasha, but expects to in the near future. The company currently has an office at the port.
Sanford said the port tours are part of Pasha's process of convincing auto manufacturers and sellers to use their services at Port Manatee. The company needs to get enough manufacturers on board to justify opening a new operation.
"These companies put out bids and car processors respond to bid packages," he said "You hope you get short listed and evaluated."
While port officials are not part of the process outside of providing information and tours, Sanford said "everybody who's looked at us has been impressed."
"It's gonna happen and it'll be a great thing for the county," he said.
In addition to its auto processing business, Pasha operates as a stevedoring company, auto distributor and logistics company.
It also specializes in relocation services, particularly for members of the U.S. military. Buber said Pasha will operate as a stevedore at the port for "roll on and roll off" cargo such as cars and trucks.
According to its website, Pasha processess about 400,000 vehicles each year.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.