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A steel and scrap gateway riding a surge in growth

Aug 03, 2017 | 08:00 PM | Gregory DL Morris


Last year was very strong for us across the line, with total tonnage higher by 10 percent,” Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development, summed up a banner twelve months for Port Tampa Bay (PTB).

“Within that general growth, steel was up 73 percent overall and our scrap business more than doubled, up 107 percent,” he added, citing statistics capturing a performance that helped earn Port Tampa Bay AMM’s 2017 Steel Excellence Award for Logistics/Transportation Provider of the Year.

Florida’s largest steel port, Port Tampa Bay moved 247,438 short tons of steel and 370,775 short tons of scrap metal in fiscal year 2016. The main driver of the steel shipments moving both into and out of the Port is the construction market.

Florida just passed New York—by a scant 150,000 people—to become the third-largest state in the union by population. And, of course, all those people have to live somewhere, shop somewhere, and work somewhere.

“We have a booming construction sector, especially in the corridor from our port across to Orlando,” Elliott noted. “That accounts for about half of the state’s population.

 “The construction market is a big user of steel,” he added. “Within our port itself, as well as around the Tampa Bay region, there is steel fabrication, distribution, and logistics.”

Down the road, there is even more reason to be upbeat. The downtown area is seeing a massive redevelopment program, led by Jeffery Vinik, the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners has organized $3 billion in private-sector investment for downtown Tampa with funds expected to underwrite the construction of hotels, offices, and mixed-use facilities. Beyond the downtown initiative, which was announced in June, there is roughly another $2 billion in private-sector investment,” Elliott said.

Besides the imports of finished steel products for construction, the port handles scrap as well as fabricated structures for export. “We have several steel tenants in the port,” Elliott noted. “These include Tampa Tank and its sister company, Florida Structural Steel. They fabricate petroleum storage tanks and bridge structures, and have been at Port Redwing (on the east side of the bay opposite St. Petersburg) for about a year and a half,” he elaborated.

“We also have Titan Materials. They slit steel coils,” he said. “In terms of the broader regional industrial base, we have companies that work with pipe and rebar either for manufacturing or construction.”

Port Tampa Bay, the largest steel port in Florida, handled a gross total of 38-million tons of business last year. With road and rail access, steel and scrap come and go by every mode of transportation. Indeed, transportation has been an integral part of the port from its early days. The very first commercial flight in American history was made in 1912, by seaplane, from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

“We have diversity in lines of business,” Elliott pointed out. “As the economy grows, we see more container traffic, dry bulk, liquid bulk, and cruise passengers. This is a big port for fertilizer exports, as well as bringing in all the refined fuels and lubricants used in Tampa and Orlando—all the jet fuel for the airports and all the gasoline for the cars,” he added. “We also have four major shipyards, and those obviously are major consumers of steel.”

While Port Tampa Bay owns the facilities, Elliott is quick to credit Ports America, its operating partner for break bulk and container cargo. “We do quite a lot of heavy-lift and project cargo.”

In conjunction with Ports America, Port Tampa Bay has done important work in both safety and security, forming the Tampa Cooperative Safety and Security Initiative. Not surprisingly, steel movements were a focus for implementation of the program.

In the several years it has been in place, the safety initiative has expanded to include more than 50 operators in and around the port. Stevedores, crane operators, ship lines, and land-side transportation operators are all involved as well as freight forwarders, agents, surveyors, and the local constabulary. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough first responders are participants, along with federal agencies such as the Coast Guard and Customs & Border Protection.

In calendar year 2016, there was only one lost time injury recorded with 147,000 hours logged among the Port’s general cargo berths and yards. The lost-time frequency rate fell from 2.3 in 2015 to 1.36 the same year.

That sort of safety performance is likely to catch the attention of insurers. And indeed it has. Lloyd’s List, one of the major global maritime underwriting organizations, selected PTB as the 2016 North American Port Operator of the Year.

Finally, for more than two decades, the port has also hosted the Tampa Steel Conference. Next year’s event is scheduled to take place February 21, 2018.