PORT MANATEE -- Sometime in the next 18 months, at least one sales and marketing employee at Port Manatee will likely have a 305 area code on his or her business card.
In their quest to expand the port's client list, port authority officials are planning to establish a permanent sales position in the Miami area. An office with a southeast Florida address and a new sales employee is not yet in the budget, but talk about having such a presence is getting serious between port executives and members of the port authority.
Last year, the port actually had picked out a candidate for a Miami marketing position, said Carol Whitmore, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority. But they backed away because the port didn't have the money to pay a salary likely to run over $200,000. The port lost its largest phosphate fertilizer shipper in 2013, which amounted to a revenue loss of several hundred thousand dollars.
"We did it for budgetary reasons," said Carlos Buqueras, port executive director.
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Buqueras has been the port's representative in Miami since being hired two years ago. He travels to the city regularly to call on potential clients, including those he had during a 22-year sales career with Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. He will stay in that role for the time being. A world traveler for the port and fluent in Spanish and Portuguese -- the two most commonly spoken languages in the Caribbean and Central and South America -- Buqueras said he is still establishing the port's reputation with domestic and international companies and shippers that manage some or all of their trade out of Miami.
Moving into the Miami-area market is a long-term investment. The port has yet to bring a single client to its berths and warehouses from marketing efforts in that area. The challenge is to find lines of business that are not currently established at other Florida ports. One top prospect may be in luring clients that ship into other southern and Atlantic states.
The area is also the key
to South and Central American business. Calling Miami the unofficial "capital of Latin America," Buqueras said the city is the best place for the port to invest in building sales. The port is looking to bring in cargo shippers and a portion of the cruise ship business.
Port Manatee does have a cruise ship terminal, but has not berthed a cruise ship for years.
If the port hires for a Miami-area sales position, it will seek out a multilingual candidate who has experience in selling port shipping services. A new sales person would report to Matty Appice, the port's senior director of trade development and sales. The sales person would likely maintain a small office in the Miami area.
Miami-area customers would also see quite a bit of Buqueras and members of the port authority.
"The salesman-in-chief will always be the port director and the board," Buqueras said.
In the meantime, members of port staff may add a 305 phone number to "let the customers know we are there," Buqueras said. In the past, Port Manatee executives have maintained Tampa Bay- area phone numbers.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.