Officials at the Port of Tampa say their facility can handle any product a shipper wants to send its way.
It doesnt matter what kind of cargo you want to unload, bring it to Tampa. Other ports may tell you, 'If its not in a container we dont want it,' said Tampa Port Director and CEO Richard Wainio.
And while Gov. Rick Scott has drawn attention to the states port system in the past year by focusing attention on an anticipated increase in cargo traveling through the Panama Canal when its ongoing expansion is completed in 2014, as well as the continued competition for jobs and business from East Coast ports from Georgia to New York, the 2,600-acre Gulf Coast port on Tampa Bay has been teaming with officials from Houston and Mobile as it builds itself into the Gulfs gateway.
Already more than 9 million Floridians in Central Florida get goods -- from food and housing materials to oil and gas -- through Tampa Port, which, until the Port of Miami is dredged to 50 feet, is the deepest seaport in Florida, with a 43-foot channel.
For tankers, a direct pipeline is in place to provide fuel to Orlando International Airport.
Meanwhile, the port is moving forward with a 14-point plan set down more than five years ago that outlined ways to handle growth.
A $100 million rail line that will allow trains up to 100 cars long to roll up to ships is expected to be ready in July, that could cut a day from the loading and transportation of freight.
A $500 million elevated I-4 Crosstown Connector, that will allow truckers picking up and unloading at the port to quickly access I-4, I-275 and I-75, should be completed at the end of 2013.
And earlier this month, Scott directed $22.5 million in state transportation funding to match the Tampa Port Authoritys contribution to expand the petroleum capacity at the Port of Tampa.
The work, expected to take at least two years to complete, will grow the capacity at the port from its current ability to handle 112 million barrels of petroleum a year to approximately 147 million barrels.
More importantly, for the Tampa Port Authority, which oversees the port, the project will create between 640 and 800 construction jobs and create 2,500 to 8,300 jobs directly and indirectly around the port.
PORT OF TAMPA
By tonnage and area the largest port in Florida and 15th largest in the United States, handling nearly 40 percent of all maritime cargo entering this state.
Cargo by tons: 37.15 million in 2009/2010. Projected to be 49.23 million in 2014/2015.
Major port of entry for fuel and building materials, as well as phosphate and fertilizer products, new and used automobiles, citrus pellets, scrap steel, limestone, ammonia, cement and rock.
Trading partners: India, Mexico, Trinidad, Canada, Japan, China, Australia and Colombia.
Cruise passengers: 875,000 last year, its second highest ever. With Norwegian Cruise Line joining Carnival, RCCI and Holland America, the port anticipates the numbers growing toward 1 million by 2013.
Six questions with Tampa Port Director Richard Wainio:
SSN: Where does the port view itself in the footprint of Gov. Scott's dream to attract more growth from the Panama Canal expansion?
Wainio: When youre talking about the Panama Canal, youre talking about container ports. Thats particularly exciting if youre just a container port, like the Port of Savannah; if youre Miami, your focus is on containers. Our focus is much more broad.
Were the gateway to all the petroleum products that enter into western Central Florida. Nine million people depend on us for their gasoline. All of the airports, including Orlando Airport, are connected to us for all their jet fuel.
But we do have an interest in containers. We do believe the expansion of the canals will have a significant impact on the U.S. Gulf Coast."
SSN: What is the desired growth in the next five to 20 years for the port?
Wainio: We want to make sure we can continue to provide the energy product the region needs.
We have planned a $45 million plan to modernize our petroleum capacity. The governor recently announced $22.5 million for that project. Thats a huge project.
Beyond that, we continue to diversify our lines of business. We have to have the ability to respond quickly to the changing trade environment, to handle any type of cargo in ships that are out there.
We do see the container business in Tampa growing significantly. We should, and I emphasis should, capture the Central Florida container market.
We are right now in the middle of building our on-dock unit train on the Tampa Gateway Rail. That means by July well have on-dock unit trains, 80 to 100 cars that will come right up to the container terminals.
SSN: What will it take to reach this growth?
Wainio: We are the deepest port in the state. The only port that is moving beyond that is Miami. Were at 43 feet.
We have the ability, we can very quickly expand our container terminal to meet any level of demand. In other words, I dont believe in 'build it and they will come.'You can spend a couple of hundred million dollars to build a nice container terminal. But it may sit there, either not being used or partially being used for a long, long time, until the market picks up. About five or six years ago we laid out a 14-phase build-out for the container terminal and we are implementing those phases as demand requires.
Right now, we can handle about 250,000 containers. We can move it as quickly as we need to, from a quarter-million capacity to 1 million capacity very fast.But were not just going to spend our money and taxpayers' money on a facility that may or may not be needed. So were going to build it out as we need it.
SSN: What ports and entities are offering the most competition to attract this trade?
Wainio: The competition isnt so much among the ports; the competition and the determining factors (are) the decisions made by the importers and exporters and the ocean carriers.
We dont look at it as competition in Florida, we see the competition being something that is favorable for the Florida businesses and consumers.
When Jacksonville talks competition, theyre not talking competition with Tampa or Miami or Everglades. Jacksonville is more concerned, as we all are, with ports outside Florida.
Were happily in a different situation. If you look at a map, its pretty much geography. Go north-south. Right next to Jacksonville is Savannah and Charleston and Virginia.
The Gulf lays out east-west, so you have Tampa, Mobile and Houston, and theyre all a considerable distance and they are all gateways to distinct markets.
These big ships are not going to come just for one port. They have to hit multiple points. So what were telling ship owners and operators of the world, 'if you guys go into an undersized market because of the geography, you can hit Houston, Mobile and Tampa. You can fill your ship coming in and fill your ship going out and hit one-third of the U.S. market.'
We think, in the next couple of years, were going to see some major carriers putting more ships into the market from Tampa to Houston.
SSN: What is Florida doing to counter this competition?
Wainio: This governor and his administration, and the new secretary of the Department of Transportation, who is his man implementing all this, they have sent a clear message that they understand that the future economic growth of this state is closely linked to trade development. We cant simply depend on the economy of the past, population growth, tourism and construction.
"And (Scott) giving that money to Miami early on, he recognizes that the container business is very attractive.
He clearly recognizes the expansion of our energy needs is essential to the state as a whole. And I think he continues to show he doesnt just talk the talk.
SSN: Who are the biggest champions of the port?
Wainio: The governor is a huge champion. The governor has made people take notice of not just Tampa but the ports in general. We were operating under the radar screens.
The business community. When you talk of container development, here in Tampa, you can spend all the money you can spend, you can build the biggest, most modern facility, with the deepest channels, but if you dont have the importers and exports, moving the cargo, doing the business, the port is going to sit there.
Its the Rooms To Go, Publix, Southern Wine and Spirits, the Lowe's, all these companies that are scattered throughout the area. The real drive we have is a group we put together to support our container development, called the Executive Shippers Council. We have about 150 companies that collectively control something in the neighborhood of 250,000 containers in and out of Central Florida. Those are the people. We bring them to the table and they tell the ocean carriers what they can guarantee in business.
The first installment of this series: "Port Canaveral Bulking Cargo and Cruise Passengers" can be found here.
The second: "Port Backers Offer Vision to Make Florida the Global Hub" can be found here.
The third: "Gateway to the Caribbean Seeks Inland Expansion" can be found here.
The fourth: "Port of Miami is Digging for Growth" can be found here.
The fifth: "Key West: Port of Cruises" can be found here.
The sixth: "Port of Fernandina Looking Inland" can be found here.
The seventh: "Port of Pensacola Aims to Increase Cargo Handling" can be found here.
The eighth: "Port of Fort Pierce Aims to Expand Cargo Capacity" can be found here.
The ninth:"Port Manatee Growing in the Heart of Tampa Bay" can be found here.
The tenth:"Port Citrus: A Work Very Early in Its Progress" can be found here.
(This is the eleventh in a series with port directors in Florida.)
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.