Diversifying imports and exports, preparing for trade to Cuba, and the possible revival of a Port Manatee cruise line are among the issues Carlos Buqueras plans to address if he officially becomes the port’s new executive director.
Calling the Herald this week from Spain, where he was traveling on business for Port Everglades, Buqueras said he is eager to help Port Manatee make the most of its strategic location, direct connections to central Florida and potential to expand in land, infrastructure and commodities.
“Port Manatee has been affected by the economy primarily because of the commodities it was importing, especially construction materials,” said Buqueras, chosen by the port authority last week as the port’s new executive director. “We need to move on with diversification. You can never control national or international economic downturns. But if you have revenue lines and streams that are diversified, you’re able to at least mitigate.”
Buqueras, 57, was chosen from five finalists and an applicant pool of more than 80 to succeed David McDonald, who is retiring in January after 20 years leading Port Manatee. Buqueras is currently director of business development at Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, where he helped double container cargo over the last decade.
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“He’s been a staple here at Port Everglades and has seen the port grow quite a bit,” said Ellen Kennedy, public information officer at Port Everglades. “We’ll miss him. But I’m really happy for Carlos and I think he’s really going to shine in this new position.”
Automobiles and cement are two of the commodities Buqueras said he helped bring to Port Everglades as imports and exports. He said he would also lead Port Manatee to explore new options for imports and exports.
“As I mentioned to the port authority in my interview, if it floats, we’re going after it,” Buqueras said.
Under McDonald, Port Manatee has already taken steps to capitalize on increased trade opportunities in the Panama Canal and Brazil. Buqueras said he would continue that focus and also take steps to prepare for increased trade with Cuba when the U.S. government allows it. Already, Buqueras said, a liner is traveling weekly from Port Everglades to Cuba carrying humanitarian aid and food. “You cannot wait until Cuba opens to start thinking about it,” he said.
Another innovation Buqueras brought to Port Everglades may also prove fruitful for Port Manatee. He worked for three years to pin down a high-speed ferry carrying tourists and shoppers between Port Everglades and the Bahamas.
Buqueras would explore a similar arrangement between Port Manatee and Cuba.
A two-fold increase in cruise business is another improvement Buqueras helped generate at Port Everglades. He said he would explore reviving cruise business at Port Manatee, which hasn’t had a cruise line since Regal Cruises collapsed in 2003.
“I think we have to look at cruise traffic,” Buqueras said, “but only if it works operationally and financially. Every single business at Port Everglades has made money from the first day it came, and that is crucial. If we’re going to lose money for the first two years, we cannot afford to do it.”
Negotiations between Port Manatee and Buqueras haven’t yet occurred because Buqueras has been traveling internationally since he was chosen by the authority.
The executive director position has a salary range of $150,000 to $190,000, and the authority hopes their new leader will start before McDonald officially leaves in January.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7081.