TAMPA — Discussions are under way with major vehicle manufacturers who are making cars in Mexico to ship them through Port Tampa Bay, the head of an international auto processing company said Thursday at the first day of the two-day Shifting International Trade Routes conference in Tampa.
“Within the next year you will have cars here,” Steven Rand, president and chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Amports, told a group of about 200 shipping industry officials meeting at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
Rand and local officials believe a dramatic increase in vehicles manufactured in Mexico and Port Tampa Bay’s location that provides relatively quick “short-sea” shipments from Mexico to the United States will launch a lucrative, new shipping business for Port Tampa Bay.
With major auto manufacturers planning to expand production of vehicles in Mexico from 2.9 million today to more than 4 million by 2017, Tampa could develop business without drawing from Amport’s processing business in Jacksonville and Brunswick, Ga.
A 75-acre waterfront site at Berth 202 at Port Tampa Bay, where an existing warehouse has been turned into a processing center for vehicles to get final touches before delivery by rail or truck, is scheduled to be ready for business this spring.
What’s needed are contracts with manufacturers in Mexico to use Tampa in lieu of rail shipments north through Texas and across the country, or to other U.S. seaports currently handling auto imports, although the increase in supply of Mexican-produced vehicles could provide plenty of business for all.
“Those places will fill up,” Rand said referring to Amport’s Jacksonville and Brunswick operations. “CSX (freight trains) are on the docks here and have surplus inbound vehicle cars from deliveries to Tampa Bay from the Midwest.”
But what might appear to be a fairly simple business concept in reality has many parts and dynamics, not the least of which is how shipping companies can keep costs low without loads to ship on empty, outbound auto vessels from Port Tampa Bay.
However, Per Folkesson, head of Region Americans for Hoegh Autoliners Inc.’s Jacksonville office, said shipping companies could achieve some economic advantages if the number of ports from which they ship and the number of destinations are kept low, while seeking goods to fill vessels on outbound journeys.
“We need to find short-sea (routes) that can be competitive with rail from Mexico,” he said, pointing the discussion toward Port Tampa Bay’s geographical and infrastructure sweet spots.