Many of the meetings in my legislative office and emails I have received this summer have been about the need for new job growth in our area. As we know, our community has shown the unique ability to capitalize on a wide array of projects and new business enterprises.
We are proud that our community is home to an ever-growing arts community, world-class beaches, sought-after sports academies, research and development laboratories and a host of higher-education institutions.
However, time and time again, the largest international economic driver in our area often gets left off the list of unique industries. Right in our own backyard we have a specialized economic driver that is part of an industry that generates $6.90 for every $1 invested in Florida. This entity is our local gateway to international trade and investment. It is part of one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the U.S., and the industry has a projected growth rate of 20%. This often forgotten work engine that offers boundless opportunities for our community is Port Manatee.
The Florida Ports Council noted that maritime cargo activities at Florida’s ports generated more than 550,000 direct and indirect jobs, which equaled $66 billion in total economic value to the state. Waterborne international trade moving through Florida’s seaports increased by 18.7 % and was valued at $82.7 billion in 2011. This equated to 55.4% of Florida’s international trade.
This month and last, the White House announced several projects to keep Florida’s ports on the forefront of growth in the maritime sector. This national focus on our ports is tangible evidence that their growth is paramount to our community, our state and our nation. Our community and Port Manatee are part of Florida’s waterborne international trade sector, which generates just under $150 billion to Florida annually.
Locally, Port Manatee has received $9 million to help construct a 32-acre container terminal and expand the port’s cargo storage capacity for its marine highway (short sea shipping) operation. The Florida Department of Transportation and Port Manatee matched these funds. Funding like this helps drive a $2.3 billion annual regional impact and it aids our port in housing more than 24,000 jobs.
Our region should be proud to be a part of making Florida fourth in the nation’s top exporting states in 2011. Our community’s port is the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the Panama Canal, and it handles approximately 9 million tons of cargo each year. Port Manatee is a gateway to Central America and is an integral international trade conduit.
Our community needs Port Manatee and Port Manatee needs our community’s support. We need to encourage investment, and we need to be ready as a community to provide a workforce for their growth.
Our local congressional leaders and I need to advocate for funding to allow for Port Manatee’s expansion, and we must promote continued investment in the port’s operations. Our educational institutions, our farms, our transportation companies and, most importantly, our workforce, all benefit from Port Manatee’s continued growth. I have no doubt that our community is ready to embark on strengthening our position on both a national and international playing field.
With 5,000 acres of opportunity for growth and a workforce that is ready for new challenges, our community is on the cusp of a new chapter in our economic history, and I can’t wait for the world to see what we have to offer right here in Manatee County.
State Rep. Greg Steube represents Florida District 67.