If you live in the Tampa Bay region, there’s a high likelihood that your life has been touched by the activities that occur at Port Tampa Bay.
The port — also known as the Port of Tampa and the Tampa Port Authority — is located near downtown Tampa — but its impacts are far-reaching.
“Port Tampa Bay is the largest port in the state of Florida,” Greg Lovelace, the port’s senior director of business development, told members of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, through a Zoom meeting last month.
Hope Kennedy, the chamber’s president and CEO, told those listening: “I don’t know if we all realize what a huge asset the Port of Tampa is to our entire region. Not every community has a wonderful port, deepwater port.”
About 33 million tons of cargo moves across the port’s docks each year, and the port is made up of about 5,000 acres — making it Florida’s largest port both in terms of tonnage, and in land mass, Lovelace said.
Wondering if the port has an impact on your life?
If you drive a car, take an Uber or fly in an airplane, chances are the gasoline, diesel or jet fuel used to run them came through the port of Tampa.
“Over 40% of the energy products in the state of Florida come through the Port of Tampa,” Lovelace said.
If you buy a couch at a furniture store, shop at a Big Box store or order on Amazon — your purchase probably came through the port.
“The port business —which is products moving in or out by ship — is driven by the local market. In our case, that’s the I-4 corridor,” Lovelace said.
Nearly 1,000 people are moving into the state each day, he added.
“That translates into a lot of consumption for housing, appliances, groceries, furniture, etc.
“Whatever you see on the store shelves, that’s ultimately what comes through the port,” Lovelace said.
“There’s over 380 million square feet of distribution space along the I-4 corridor.
“You can see what a significant market this is, with all of the distribution centers and all of the population there, which consume products. That’s really what drives our business from a cargo standpoint, is the consumption,” said Lovelace, who has been with the port for 25 years and lives in Wesley Chapel.
“This area is considered the 10th largest economy in the U.S., with a GDP (gross domestic product) of more than $300 billion.
The port handles containers, refrigerated cargo, and cargo that is rolled onto and rolled off of a ship, referred to in the trade as RORO.
One of the port’s key exports is fertilizer because a chief ingredient, phosphate, is mined in Central Florida. But producing the fertilizer requires other raw materials, which are imported, Lovelace said.
Other imports include steel coils, lumber, and other materials used by the building and construction industry.
Recently, the port expanded its import trade to include fresh fruit from Guatemala and Honduras, through Dole Fresh Fruits, on a weekly service into Tampa.
“We’re excited about the service, which is operated by their sister company Dole Ocean Cargo Express, and what it means for the local community.
“Not only will Dole produce have a more efficient way to reach the market here in Central Florida, but the ships going back and forth are open to third-party cargo interests, meaning that companies in this area that are trading with Guatemala and Honduras have access to a ship to get there,” Lovelace said.
Location, location, location
Tampa’s port has a competitive advantage because it is less than a mile away from the I-4 connector, allowing trucks to quickly jump on and off of I-4.
“Accessing the interstate system is very important for companies to efficiently transport goods inland,” Lovelace said.
It makes sense for shippers to come to Tampa to serve the Central Florida market because of time and trucking-cost efficiencies, he said.
Tampa also is a logical choice for those wanting to move goods to the Atlanta or Charlotte markets, he added.
The federal Department of Transportation limits the number of hours that truck drivers can drive in a day, Lovelace explained.
Trucks leaving Tampa can reach Atlanta or Charlotte within the DOT’s rules, but those departing from South Florida cannot, he said.
“We look for those types of advantages to provide efficiencies in the supply chain,” Lovelace said.
While many industries and businesses have suffered during COVID-19, Port Tampa Bay has been on a roll.
“Our container business is really booming. It’s up by almost 50% compared to the last year.
“We are expanding. A lot of new services coming in,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”
So, with the exception of the cruise industry, Port Tampa Bay has flourished, he said.
Of course, the port is part of the larger supply chain, which, because of COVID, has experienced a huge backlog.
The port executive explained it this way: “If you order something on Amazon, a lot of times you’ll get a message now that says something like, ‘Due to extenuating circumstances, your order might be delayed … .
“That’s happening all over the country,” he said.
In short, when COVID initially hit, workers at plants in Asia were told to stay home and production halted.
With no cargo to move, ocean carriers laid up their vessels.
Then, everything came to a screeching halt.
Meanwhile, demand was building because people in the U.S. were working from home and thinking about things they could do around the house, such updating the kitchen, redoing the bathroom, buying a new chair or desk for their office, and so on, he said.
They began buying stuff online.
“So, now you have all of the plants shut down, all of the shipping lines down, but then all of sudden you started having all of these orders starting to come in,” Lovelace said.
Plants began producing again, but were months behind. Shipping lines began reintroducing vessels, but there wasn’t enough capacity.
The lack of capacity, coupled with the high demand, drove up ocean freight rates.
“And, they’re still struggling to catch up with some of the demand that has happened with all of the online ordering,” he said.
Some are projecting this situation will continue until sometime in 2022, he said.
Published September 22, 2021