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While most Florida ports struggle, two in the region shine

Port Manatee and Port Tampa Bay posted big gains in cargo volume.

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  • | 8:40 a.m. August 18, 2021
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Florida’s seaports took something of a COVID-19 connected dive in total trade cargo handled in 2020. But the two biggest ports on the state’s west coast, in Hillsborough and Manatee counties, actually posted strong years.

The state’s $117 billion maritime trade industry had an overall decline of $14.1 billion in 2020 over 2019, according to a Florida Seaports Transportation & Economic Development Council report — a drop of 16.1%. Cargo tonnage moving through Florida’s 15 seaports dropped 8.4%, while imports fell 13.8% and exports fell 20%. The report, “Seaport Mission Plan: Navigating Beyond the Pandemic,” is an annual update required by lawmakers, according to the Center Square Florida, a Tallahassee-based news site.

While the drop in activity is the headline, the secondary story is a bit more positive: Cargo volumes increased in three of the state’s 15 ports. Port Manatee, in Palmetto, had the biggest gain, at 54.5%. That was driven by a 78.1% surge in export containers, the report found, in addition to a 38.9% increase in import containers. Port Tampa Bay, meanwhile, posted a volume gain of 49.9% and Port Panama City was up 33.5%.

Other highlights of the report include:

• Japan was Florida’s top trade partner in 2020, edging out China for the second straight year. Even so, the trade value with both countries dropped 17.5% and 14.9%, respectively.

• Most of the declines in 2020 occurred in the first six months — at the height of pandemic uncertainty. Volumes began to recover by fall 2020.

• Analysts project the recovery that began in the fall will continue through 2021.



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