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Business surges at local port during pandemic

Port Manatee didn't take even a second to breathe in 2020. Instead, the port barreled through the pandemic in a move that paid off with a reported 55% increase in cargo.

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  • | 12:00 p.m. September 30, 2021
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File. Port Manatee reported a 55% increase in containerized cargo at the end of the 2020 fiscal year.
File. Port Manatee reported a 55% increase in containerized cargo at the end of the 2020 fiscal year.
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While the rest of the world was on pause in 2020, Port Manatee kept chugging away. 

“The port never closed for 10 minutes during 2020,” Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras said at a recent Manatee Chamber of Commerce Headliners event, noting people still relied on the port to provide fuel. “We’re open more than Publix.” 

Staying open seemed to do the trick in terms of growth. The port reported a record 88,466 20-foot equivalent units of containerized cargo when the fiscal year ended September 2020. That was a 55% increase over the preceding year. In order to keep up with demand, the port is expanding the container yard with the addition of 9.3 acres to the existing 10-acre paved facility — an $8.3 million project. The port received 50% of the funding for that project through a Florida Department of Transportation grant.

The port is also working to expand its docking space. The improvement project of 2021-22 will expand a pair of berthing docks by 600 feet. With the expansion, the docks will be able to simultaneously accommodate two large cargo vessels. The project is being funded with a $15 million state grant, along with a 25% port match. 

Buqueras stresses the port match. “We do it the old-fashioned way,” he says. “(The board is) looking to grow the business without taxpayer’s expense.”

Future expansion will include the addition of ship-to-shore cranes, more berthing space and an additional container yard. 

In addressing the competitive port landscape in Florida — there are 15 public ports in the state — Buqueras doesn’t necessarily view them as competition. “I feel that ports should cooperate with each other,” he says. “(Most) everything we buy originates from overseas. So, the opportunities for ports to bring in cargo is immense.”



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