ST. PETERSBURG -- It was part economic cheerleading, part psychotherapy and part business think tank Wednesday as Tampa Bay port directors met to find ways to better cooperate.
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad urged officials representing ports in Manatee County, Tampa and St. Petersburg to work together and cooperate in order to better compete against other areas in the United States and worldwide.
"We've got to think globally," said Prasad at the meeting at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.
He emphasized the three Tampa Bay-area ports should go for new business by challenging ports in neighboring states such as Mobile, Ala., and Houston, and in other regions, such as the Caribbean -- rather than compete against each other.
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Once the Panama Canal expansion is complete, Florida is the nearest state and its ports could potentially harvest a great bounty of shipping business, he said.
He said the three ports are "on the same road, so to speak," and each have their pluses and minuses. He urged them to find common ground.
"Let's play to our strengths," Prasad said.
He emphasized he was not advocating port consolidation, which Port Manatee officials have said they do not want.
Manatee County Port Authority members responded positively.
"We're not trying to beat anybody on price. We're trying to get the customer on customer service," said Manatee County Port Authority Chairwoman Carol Whitmore. "The big risk is to lose any business to another state. Our reward will be to create jobs. We need to make sure that we are working together so we can have good economic development in all our port areas."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.