The Port of Tampa is known for cruising. 975 thousand people boarded ships in Tampa last year. That is a number that could top a million with the help of a fifth major cruise line. Tampa Port Authority Director and CEO Paul Anderson expects to make an official announcement within the next six months.
Before coming aboard in January, Anderson was in charge of the Jacksonville port and spent five years on the Federal Maritime Commission. He considers the Port of Tampa an economic force. It's already Florida's largest port and it has room to grow under his leadership. The most recent economic impact study shows the port contributes nearly 8-billion dollars a year to Tampa Bay's economy and is responsible for 100-thousand jobs.
Anderson says he has a big responsibility to create jobs and be an economic developer. He operates the Port as a business even though it has some public agency aspects to it. He compares it to a shopping mall with him acting as the chief landlord. The Port leases to tenants that bring in good business and they employ all the people.
There is an ant-hill of maritime activity with major cargoes... like petroleum. The port supplies fuel for about 8-million people. There's also fertilizer, steel and vehicles old and new with plenty of room to branch out. Anderson says more than 60% of the cargo that's coming into Florida is coming from ports outside of our state. He calls that low hanging fruit.
Even so, it is a demanding task when cargo is the currency of the world requiring bigger and bigger container ships. It takes millions to keep up. Anderson has to get bigger cranes to service bigger ships and those cranes are a significant investment. He says the state has pumped 400 million dollars into Florida ports over the past two years… state dollars matched locally. According to Anderson almost all of the money the port makes is being invested back in the infrastructure to create more jobs.
There are limitations. Enormous vessels need deeper channels of at least 50 feet. Tampa has 43-feet of channel depth. Anderson says we are going to have to live with that. "We just have too long of a channel, over 40-miles. We could never justify the cost to dredge to a deeper depth."
Anderson's strategy is to go after feeder ships that can transfer cargo from the gigantic ships once they come through the expanded Panama Canal which should be completed in 2015. He also plans to market Florida's first gateway rail terminal. He says, "We can now get cargo off a ship, onto the dock, put it on a train and get it out of this port." And coming soon: the new I-4 Selmon Expressway Connector with a dedicated ramp that allows for off-loading cargo onto a truck and getting it right on the interstate and onto Orlando, which is a plum market. No more traffic, stop lights or wear and tear on Ybor city streets
One more note about the cruise business. If Anderson wants to promote smooth sailing ahead he'll need to chart a new course. Just like cargo ships... cruise ships are also growing in size. Anderson says they're looking at how to accommodate the new super-sized ships. That could require using land on the other side of the skyway bridge. He might also look at doing a channel that goes around the bridge and doing a draw bridge where you don't have the skyway.
Paul Anderson is looking at all options for The Port of Tampa and creating opportunities. It's what you do when you are at the helm, navigating a sea change in the global maritime industry.
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