TAMPA — The Port of Tampa needed a new leader, and Paul Anderson liked what he heard — especially the part about 15th century Italy.
The port was financially healthy. It was profitable, despite declining tonnage and a poor container sector. It was diversified, handling petroleum, steel and cruise ships. It was poised to grow: plenty of land, low debt. It could be the trade gateway to Central Florida and feed off Latin American cargo. And Tampa Bay was a sprawling, diverse region.
Anderson was already the state's highest-paid port leader. He'd make even more as the Tampa Port Authority's new CEO.
So: a good job in a good location at a great salary. Not too hard of a sell.
Then Mayor Bob Buckhorn closed the deal.
Don't think of this place as 21st century Tampa, he told Anderson.
Think of it, instead, as 15th century Italy.
"He told me we're going to have a Renaissance in Tampa," Anderson said. "It really captured me."
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To the mayor, Anderson's three decades spent in politics, marketing and ports would help propel that Renaissance.
"I think what I tried to do was to let him know what potential exists here," Buckhorn said, "and to talk to him about my vision, and what a pivotal time this was in this community and how his addition to the lineup was the last missing piece."
"We were focused on getting Tampa to the next level. … I saw him as a perfect complement to everything else we were doing."
Last month Anderson agreed to a three-year contract that will pay him $350,000 annually. Buckhorn said he's the latest addition to a roster of new leaders guiding Tampa's economic development.
Joe Lopano took over as the CEO of Tampa International Airport in 2011, tasked with bringing in new, lucrative overseas routes that would generate tens of millions of dollars for the bay area. Route development was his specialty as a top marketing executive at Dallas-Forth Worth.
In January 2012, the public-private Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. hired Rick Homans as its CEO to bring new business to Hillsborough County. He helped build Spaceport America, the desert home of several space startups in Las Cruces, N.M.
Anderson, 53, spent 23 months as CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority. Before that, he spent five years on the Federal Maritime Commission.
He was appointed by President George W. Bush to help raise money for his campaign. He cites numerous political campaigns on his resume, and in the private sector has worked in shipping, freight and car dealerships. The connections he built in those spheres — the private and public sectors, in maritime and marketing — is why Tampa hired him.
"He is politically connected," Buckhorn said. "There's politics involved when there's funding involved. So you've got to know your way around Washington, D.C., when you're looking for federal funding."
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Anderson has been CEO and executive director of the Port of Tampa for seven business days. But he already seems to have a grasp on what he wants to do here.
When he talks he likes to drop facts and figures and names, like Giora Israel, a senior vice president at Carnival Cruise Lines, or Claudio Bozzo, the president of the U.S. subsidiary of the Mediterranean Shipping Co. MSC, a Swiss company, is the world's second-largest shipper and recently brought its global service to the Port of Tampa.
In many ways, Anderson said, his former port and his new port are very similar: Both Jacksonville and Tampa handle diverse cargoes. Both make money off their land holdings.
But in other ways, Jaxport has what Tampa desires: strong container and vehicle markets.
In 2011, Jacksonville led the state with 900,433 containers. That same year, Tampa handled just 4.4 percent of that: 40,000 containers. Jacksonville also moved 1.1 million tons of vehicles. Tampa: just 11,590 tons.
That year the Port of Tampa handled more total tonnage, 13.7 million tons of cargo, compared with Jacksonville's 8.1 million tons. Tampa also had more cruise ship passengers: 900,000, compared with Jaxport's 189,000.
But Jacksonville made $51 million in revenue compared with Tampa's $42 million. Tampa can no longer rely solely on bulk cargoes like phosphates, which are declining.
Containers and cars are the future. But the future must be imported from overseas, and the competition to land that cargo is intense along the Gulf Coast and Florida's east coast.
"But now we have the opportunity to go out and get international customers here," Anderson said.
Ports America operates Tampa's shipping terminals. It spent six years trying to bring MSC to Tampa. Adding MSC to Tampa's existing shipping line, Zim Integrated Shipping Services, won't mean an automatic increase in container traffic. But it does mean importers and exporters here and abroad now have the choice of moving their containers in and out of Tampa from just about anywhere in the world.
MSC connects Tampa to the Middle East and through the Suez Canal. But Anderson said Tampa can't compete for that traffic with Florida's ports on the east coast.
What Tampa must instead concentrate on is Mexico and Central and South America.
"That will be our sweet spot," Anderson said.
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The key will be transshipment.
When the Panama Canal expansion is completed — the date is now 2015 — gargantuan ships that can carry 12,500 or more containers will be able to sail through the canal. But while a handful of ports like the Port of Miami are vying to serve those ships, many cannot. The Port of Tampa is one of them.
But many of those "Post Panamax" ships will be unloaded at an intermediate point onto smaller ships, which will complete delivery. Hence, transshipment.
Those are the container ships for which Tampa can — and must — compete. They'll likely dock in the Caribbean, transfer their containers to smaller ships, then sail for the United States.
"A little-known fact to the public is that Panama is spending almost as much on transshipment facilities on either end of the canal (as they are on expanding the canal)," Anderson said. "So they can handle these larger ships, then drop off to the smaller ships.
"That's what we would go after."
Anderson sees commodities like fresh produce, sugar, lumber and textiles coming from Latin America. Tampa could also see more furniture, as near-sourcing leads companies to move manufacturing centers from Asia to Latin America to be closer to the U.S. market.
"They're also starting to manufacture goods that will compete with the Asian market," Anderson said.
At the top of that list is cars. Mexico is not only the top supplier of auto parts to U.S. car manufacturers, but Ford, GM, Chrysler/Fiat, Mazda, Nissan, Volkswagen and BMW all build vehicles there and have plans to expand. Other automakers are following suit.
Tampa would be a natural entry point for those cars to U.S. markets in the Southeast.
"You see our Big Three building siting plans there, and we're very closely located," Anderson said. "I've had discussions with some of the automobile carriers, and this is a natural, with the rail, to be able to get up into the southeast U.S., which is the largest auto market."
That's why MSC is a "real game changer," Anderson said. Together, MSC and Zim give Tampa strong connections to Latin American markets and transshipment points on this side of the Panama Canal.
But capturing Latin American cargo bound for the U.S. is just part of the plan.
The other part: capturing cargo bound for the Central Florida region.
According to the state, 60 percent of the containers bound for Florida come from out of state. Instead of delivering it to Florida's ports, it arrives by train and by truck from ports in California and Georgia.
But shippers are always looking to save time. They'll be looking to reduce the carbon footprint of going cross-country too. Tampa gets them much closer to Orlando, Anderson said, and MSC connects the port to the globe.
"The Central Florida market is the grand prize for all the ocean carriers," Anderson said.
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Anderson arrives at an opportune time. The Port of Tampa is in the midst of wrapping up some key infrastructure improvements that could make it a more attractive cargo destination:
• In September, the port completed the $11 million Tampa Gateway Rail terminal, a 2-mile rail loop along the docks that will allow tanker trains to quickly unload petroleum and other chemicals. It will take trains right up to the docks, where ships can quickly unload their cargo containers for delivery on CSX rail lines that run across the southeastern United States, all the way to Chicago.
• By the end of the year, the most expensive road project in Tampa Bay is set for completion: the $400 million Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector, a 1-mile toll road. It will include a ramp that will allow cargo trucks to enter the interstate straight from the docks, bypassing Ybor City traffic and traffic lights.
"Individually, they're very important," Anderson said. "But when you put those two together, they're going to optimize our ability to market Tampa. You'll be able to get your cargo out with no moves in between.
"They'll go right onto the trucks and onto the interstates and highways, or unit trains can go directly to the Southeast and Midwest."
But just cutting a few more ribbons won't boost Tampa's container sector. The port must also sell itself.
"We're going to be aggressive," said Anderson, who spent nine years working for JM Family Enterprises Inc., parent company of Southeast Toyota Distributors LLC.
"One of the best, most sophisticated marketing businesses you've ever seen is Southeast Toyota," Anderson said. "They identify their audiences and they go market to those audiences, and they do it aggressively."
That's what the Port of Tampa will do, Anderson said — identify its audiences and tailor marketing plans for them: shippers, manufacturers, produce companies, etc.
Southeast Toyota also does co-op marketing and advertising, Anderson said, teaming up with the auto manufacturer and the dealerships to split the costs of reaching customers. Tampa will do the same.
"A booth at an intermodal (trade) show can be very expensive," Anderson said. "It could be very prohibitive for our budget. But if we go in with some of our partners, if they agree, and they believe we're in this to build their business and bring jobs here, they'll invest in marketing."
But Anderson wants the port's partners to do more than just chip in. He wants them to team up. When the port approaches a potential new client, he wants executives from all the players there: Ports America, the terminal operator; CSX, the railroad company; the shipping lines; and the port. That way everything — terminal fees, railroad fees, shipping fees, port fees, etc. — can be negotiated at once.
"It will be very powerful," Anderson said.
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Anderson said lack of certainty is what brought him to Tampa.
He hadn't considered the job when former Tampa Port Authority CEO Richard Wainio announced his resignation in June. Anderson said he and his wife, Sarah, a law clerk for a federal judge, were trying to buy a house in Jacksonville then. But the deal fell through in August.
"My wife was heartbroken," he said. "She loved the house and so did I."
Then, he said, business leaders from Tampa approached him about the CEO job here. Anderson would not identify them.
Then he started to re-evaluate Jaxport. The board was churning through leaders, Anderson said, sending the "wrong signal" to the port's global customers. "Institutional knowledge" was being lost.
"I had five board chairmen in 18 months," Anderson said. Tampa was a "better opportunity," he said, in "a larger metropolitan area."
The Tampa Port Authority had something else he wanted: a stable board.
"I saw stability here," Anderson said. "At this point in my career, I'd like to have stability."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404.