Port Manatee

New business may bring more Mosaic back to port

PORT MANATEE -- A bulk materials stevedoring company expects to create up to 50 Port of Manatee-related jobs and bring back a lost customer with just a few paved acres and better equipment for piling fertilizer and cement components.

Starting in September, Gulf Coast Bulk Equipment will ship a type of sulfur pellet into the port for fertilizer maker Mosaic. Predicted to bring in an annual volume of several hundred thousand tons, port officials say the cargo could instantly replace about half the Mosaic business the port lost in 2014. Mosaic pulled its materials shipping and storage from the port to its own dock facility in the Big Bend area south of Tampa.

The line of business is half of a two-part deal that has Gulf Coast splitting Mosaic shipments between Port Manatee and Tampa. Gulf Coast signed a six-year lease with Port Tampa Bay in March for space to handle the sulfur there.

Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee's executive director, said the port must still ink an agreement with Gulf Coast for about 3 acres at the

port. The company recently moved its headquarters office to Port Manatee, where it is one of about six stevedoring companies onsite. It brings about 200,000 tons of product through the port, but plans to triple that amount in the next two years.

The new business, Buqueras said, is something port staff pursued with Gulf Coast.

"They didn't have to come here. Mosaic didn't have to come here," Buqueras said. "We had to do some convincing that we are a deep-water port that you could bring more cargo into than up north."

To facilitate a September start to sulfur shipping operations, the port will allow Gulf Coast to use part of its paved intermodal container yard or another paved area temporarily. The company also plans to spend up to $3 million on new materials handling equipment.

During a presentation to the Manatee County Port Authority late last week, Gulf Coast Vice President Billy Roy said his company is choosing to expand its operations at Port Manatee because it can handle deepdraft ships that cannot navigate shipping channels to Port Tampa Bay. He also said the port's location on U.S. 41 and near Interstate 75 provides efficient north-south access.

Roy said Gulf Coast intends to build business with some of its other customers to the port, including chemical water treatment company Allied Universal, cement maker SCB International and fertilizer producer Dreymoor.

Allied Universal already has a presence near Port Manatee. Last spring, the Miami company purchased acreage at the former Piney Point fertilizer production facility directly across U.S. 41.

Gulf Coast could reach its predicted employment level of 40 to 50 full-time positions within six to 12 months, Roy said. Most of the new hires, Roy said, are expected to be military.

Port Manatee lost about $1 million in revenue last year when Mosaic pulled its local business from bulk handler Kinder Morgan. The loss triggered limited layoffs at the port through last September.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.