The Port of Tampa's new director takes his post amid expansion work in progress.
by Stacie Kress Booker
Tampa's new port director, George Williamson, says he can't seem to get the Gulf of Mexico out of his blood. He has spent his entire career in the maritime profession, indeed he was born in the port town of Savannah, Ga., but most of his professional life he has worked at ports on the gulf. Career moves have taken him from New Orleans to New York, overseas to Antwerp, Belgium, to Tampa and Houston, and now back to Tampa. An affable man, he says it's an exciting time to be at the Port of Tampa and he's glad to be back.
Williamson held the assistant director's job here six years ago. When he left for the No. 2 post at the Port of Houston, landmarks like the Florida Aquarium, the Ice Palace -- home to the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning -- and the port's new Garrison terminal were either barely under construction or still just blueprints. The deepest port on Florida's Gulf Coast, Tampa moves more cargo, measured by weight, than any other Florida port. But most of it is lower-revenue bulk cargo, particularly phosphate, which always has been the majority of the port's business. Today, phosphate accounts for 50% and petroleum and related products 29% of trade volume, but less than half of the port's $22 million in 1998 revenues. Meanwhile container cargo, a mere 2% of trade by weight, accounts for nearly one-third of port revenues.
The port has five lines of business: bulk cargo, container cargo, passenger cruise lines, ship repair and landside entertainment/shopping. Port commissioners expect Williamson to develop more cruise and retail opportunities, but his top priority, according to Port Authority Chairman Joe Garcia, is to expand container cargo trade with South America since that's where the money is and South America is by far Florida's largest trading partner.
Williamson takes the helm as the port undergoes a $60 million expansion to improve its container cargo capabilities. One problem: The Port of Tampa is not at a major crossroads for shipping lanes. If the port builds container facilities, will the trade come? Garcia says the commissioners' expectations are realistic. "We're not talking about bringing giant container ships into Tampa; we're not trying to be a hub like New York or Houston, but we are growing enough to be an important player." Williamson's marketing experience at the Port of Houston, the largest container cargo operation in the gulf and a robust trade partner with Latin America, was key to his selection out of 66 candidates for the director's job. He also speaks seven languages, including Spanish.
Williamson faces a nagging challenge from Port Manatee, a few miles to the south. Half as big as the Port of Tampa and moving only a 10th of Tampa's cargo tonnage, Port Manatee nevertheless handled four times more containers last year than Tampa, had revenues of $8 million and ships cargo that otherwise would likely go through Tampa. Del Monte, for example, which used to send bananas through Tampa, now uses Port Manatee. And nearby Tropicana facilities give the port a strong hold on the frozen concentrated orange juice trade. The port also handles the seasonal cruise traffic of Manatee-based Regal Cruises and, like Tampa, is undergoing an upgrade of facilities -- $30 million for landside improvements and another $30 million, still in the permitting stage, for waterside expansion.
As both Tampa and Manatee pursue more container traffic, Williamson says some amount of regional cooperation could benefit both ports, but he's more concerned that upgrades to enhance Tampa's container trade capabilities be handled cautiously and with the end users' needs in mind. "If you build something, you need to design it in a fashion that users want it and more importantly can use it."
...in the news
Bartow -- Enterprise Florida has given Polk County's International Trade Association an $80,000 grant to administer an export development program that will assist companies in central and south Florida with getting into exporting or expanding current exporting business. Companies will receive financial incentives to participate in overseas trade shows and trade missions sponsored by Enterprise Florida.
Clearwater -- IMRglobal Corp. (Nasdaq-IMRS), a provider of information technology services and Year 2000 solutions, acquired Paris-based Atechsys S.A., a French company specializing in business and technology consulting for capital-markets firms in Europe. IMRglobal is in the midst of a four-building expansion of its Clearwater headquarters. The first building is slated to open
Davenport -- Robert Pattillo Properties has two spec warehouses under construction in Florida Central Park. The Atlanta-based company is negotiating with several prospective tenants. A 294,000-sq.-ft. warehouse is expected to be complete by April 1; the other, a 283,000-sq.-ft. building, by May 1.
St. Petersburg -- City Council members are investigating ways to revive the three-acre downtown port. Ideas include: collaborating with University of South Florida in a maritime research and education facility; marketing the port as a destination for smaller tour vessels; renting dock space to mega-yachts; luring military ships and tall ships for public tours; and encouraging retail shops and restaurants. The council expects to finalize a renovation plan late this month.
An investor group, led by former owners of Fort Myers' South Seas Resorts, is buying the TradeWinds and the TradeWinds Sandpiper resorts on St. Pete Beach. The TradeWinds carries a four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide. Meanwhile, Mobil changed its rating of another St. Pete Beach resort, downgrading the landmark Don Cesar to three stars from four.
Sarasota -- Bill Griffin, founder of workers' comp firm Riscorp, is serving a five-month jail sentence at Eglin Federal Prison Camp in the Florida Panhandle. Griffin, the first person in the U.S. to serve prison time on charges related to illegal political campaign contributions, reached a plea-bargain agreement last August. He also faces fines of $1.75 million.
Taylor Woodrow Communities, the Florida subsidiary of publicly held Taylor Woodrow PLC, based in London has begun construction on the first of six luxury high-rise condominiums. The Oaks Preserve complex will overlook Sarasota Bay, and units will cost on average $550,000.
Tampa -- The Securities and Exchange Commission has censured PriceWaterhouse-Coopers and fined the world's largest professional services firm about $2.5 million to settle charges that employees in its Tampa office violated securities laws by holding stock in companies audited by PriceWaterhouse. The violations occurred between 1996 and 1998.
In north Tampa, A new 4-story Wingate Inn Hotel is under construction on a rapidly developing stretch of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The 84-room hotel, which caters to business travelers, is scheduled to open this fall. It's part of a three-acre site that will also feature office buildings, Hunters Green townhouses, restaurants and retail stores.
Winter Haven -- Louisville, Ky.-based Accent Marketing Services opened a customer communications center at the Scotty's corporate complex to answer calls for Sprint Corp.'s 1-800-pindrop campaign. The facility will house about 300 employees by the end of the year.