A few years ago, Port Manatee was struggling to maintain its economic viability. It was too dependent on too few customers, and some suggested that Manatee County should sell the port.
On Tuesday, executive director Carlos Buqueras reported operating revenues of $13 million, up 9 percent in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, while cutting expenses by 3 percent.
Total tonnage was estimated at 7.8 million tons, a 13 percent increase.
One of the keys to the turnaround is diversification, and the loss of any single customer is no longer sufficient to seriously hamper the port, Buqueras said.
“You couldn’t say the same thing five years ago,” Buqueras said.
In light of those improving fortunes, members of the Manatee County Port Authority on Tuesday heaped praise on Buqueras – and indicated they might be willing to sweeten the pot of his base salary of $214,926. Buqueras’ contract ends in May 2018.
Vanessa Baugh, who serves as chair of the port authority, said the county now has the right director and the right staff for the port to flourish.
“The port is moving forward at such a fast pace,” Baugh said. “Without Carlos and his leadership, we wouldn’t be moving forward.”
Baugh said the port authority needs to complete its annual review for Buqueras and will look at his compensation.
Port authority members authorized Baugh to meet with the port authority attorney and the Clerk of Circuit Court’s Office to develop a compensation proposal for Buqueras that is competitive and appropriate. Baugh is to bring the proposal back to the authority for consideration in December.
Without Carlos and his leadership, we wouldn’t be moving forward.
Vanessa Baugh, chair of the Manatee County Port Authority
“We want to make sure we have a fair base and then look at the incentives based on how the port does,” authority member Priscilla Whisenant Trace said.
The port authority seemed firmly in Buqueras’ corner on Tuesday.
“This is a better place today,” authority member Charles Smith said in praise of Buqueras.
“Carlos has done a wonderful job in keeping this port moving forward,” authority member Betsy Benac said.
Also Tuesday, Manuel Echeverria Castro, trade commissioner for Ecuador, made a presentation to the authority on the benefits of doing business with his country.
Thirty-two percent of Ecuador’s business with the United States is through Florida ports, and Ecuador would like to increase its business through Port Manatee, Castro said.
“Opportunities are really growing for reaching Central and Southwest Florida by way of Port Manatee,” Castro said. “We have a very high interest in Port Manatee.
“We are looking to increase awareness that ports on the Gulf of Mexico, such as Port Manatee, offer great opportunity, in addition to traditional South Florida gateways,” said Castro, who noted that about 30 percent of Ecuador’s non-oil exports go to the United States, with approximately 40 percent of those products currently entering via South Florida ports on the Atlantic Ocean.”
Some of the leading exports from Ecuador are shrimp, gold, bananas, flowers, tuna and cocoa beans.
Ecuador is the only South American country whose currency is the U. S. dollar, Castro said.