PORT MANATEE -- Gov. Rick Scott made a pit stop at Manatee County's seaport Wednesday morning to see for himself what $3.3 million in taxpayer money buys.
Joined by port and local government officials as well as local business leaders, Scott dedicated the port's newest ship berth in a quickly planned but well-executed ceremony. The governor's appearance put a bookend on the $7.6 million Berth 14 construction as he cut a ceremonial ribbon almost two years after attending the project's groundbreaking.
Scott also used the 90-minute event to stump for job growth and for $10 billion in transportation funding he is proposing in his upcoming budget. Over the next four years, he said he plans to spend $200 million on Florida's deepwater ports after having already directed $800 million to the ports during his first term.
During a short speech in front of an invited group assembled with about 12 hours' notice, Scott said these investments are directed toward creating Florida jobs, even if they have to be taken from elsewhere in the country.
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"What I want to do next is let everybody in California know that with all the shipping problems out there, all those jobs are going to move here," he said, referencing the recent West Coast port slowdown that had some shippers waiting weeks to offload their goods in the United states.
He singled Port Manatee out as the state's closest port to the newly widened Panama Canal and said improvements including the new berth and a planned deepening of the port's shipping channels will bring more business to the state. He also noted that port business supports 24,000 jobs.
Carlos Buqueras, the port's executive director, said the port's goals are in line with the governor's.
"This was really an opportunity to promote the jobs," he said.
Improvements including the new berth have already had an impact. Scott said Port Manatee saw the biggest year-over-year increase in shipping in 2014 of any Florida port.
In addition to speaking at the event, Scott took a 45-minute tour of the port, stopping to speak with employees of the TransMontaigne fuel depot at Port Manatee and warehouse workers with stevedoring company FMT.
Construction on Berth 14 finished in October after 16 months of work. It is part of the largest single run of berthing space at the port, nearly 1,600 feet. The state paid for just under half of the project.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.