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Can Port Manatee help ease supply chain crisis?

The closest deep-water port to the Panama Canal, Port Manatee could be a key option for shippers to divert their cargo. Florida's 14 other ports are also at play.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — As the supply chain crisis continues, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, along with other state leaders, are hopeful that cargo ships would re-route to Florida and ease the congestion at California's ports. Several consumer goods have been affected by the delays that have followed, including bedding items, food products, clothes and other household items.

The crisis has brought about concerns as delays and shortages now loom over holiday season shopping plans despite an increase in spending.

Florida state officials have openly begun wooing shippers to send their goods to Florida. Port Manatee could be a key option if shippers start diverting their cargo, including to any of the other 14 Florida ports.

This would not only mean that they could avoid some shortages and delays of certain products and ease the back log, but it could bring a boost to the local economy as logistics companies and trucking service providers stand to benefit.

"Florida is ready and open to do business and to assist," said Carlos Buqueras, Executive Director, Port Manatee.

Buqueras said shoppers are being directly impacted and have started seeing a shortage of some goods on store shelves because of the supply chain crisis. The crisis is the most recent part of a prolonged and exacerbated set of challenges that have impacted the shipping and logistics industry since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Gov. DeSantis has been vocal about urging shippers with fully-loaded ships which are stuck in line off the coast of California to opt for the East Coast. He wants them to cut through the back log by re-routing through the Panama Canal and then offload their cargo at any of the state's 15 ports.

"Florida is here. We want to make sure that Americans get get the goods they need, particularly as we approach the Christmas season," said Gov. Desantis at a press conference last month.

"Reroute your cargo to come to Florida. We stand ready to offer you incentives that will make it ideal, and cost savings, so that these men and women, and our ports and move your cargo to get to consumers," he said.

"We can then have the ships coming directly here and then we can supply the Midwest and East Coast in any of the Florida ports," Buqueras said.

Port Manatee is the closest U.S. deep-water port to the Panama Canal and could be a popular pick for that reason.

The port's cargo trade skyrocketed 53.3 percent in the 2021 fiscal year. It also broke weight records, reaching 135,660 container units which is more than 10 million tons. Additionally, with an expansion project in the works, the port's management says it's well prepared to handle any cargo surge.

The port has already started some shippers send their cargo directly to Florida including cargo like oil, produce, lumber and various household items.

"The refrigerator you're looking to buy, you know at Home Depot or Lowe's it's backed up by six months, that's coming through here now much faster because they're sourcing it from Mexico," he said.

Buqueras said the supply chain shortage will eventually correct itself as shippers make adjustments and more labor including truck drivers are hired.

However, he added that this could take several months to take effect and for things to go back to normal.

The hope though is that suppliers gladly embrace the Florida option as a solution to get things flowing.

"I am really focused on Florida ports being able to help during the disruption so consumers are not affected as hard," Buqueras said.

According to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the supply chain crisis is directly tied to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic. He said labor shortages, transportation issues and port congestions continue to be a challenge for many companies amid high consumer demand and limited supply.

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