TAMPA — The auto manufacturing industry is rapidly expanding in Mexico, and the Port of Tampa wants to get in on the action.
That's why the Tampa Port Authority hosted its first Tampa Automotive Short Sea Summit this week, bringing together representatives from the major auto manufacturers, auto parts companies and shipping companies to discuss how Tampa could become a destination for this lucrative four-wheeled cargo.
Port officials would not reveal what companies attended the summit, which began Tuesday. But Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board, said she saw companies such as General Motors and Mercedes-Benz on hand.
"I saw all the major companies there," she said. "I thought that from the level of representation, the number of people there, I think was a clear indication that we are on the right track to try and get the car manufacturers here."
One of chief executive Paul Anderson's top goals is to turn the Port of Tampa into an import and export gateway for cars and trucks, importing Mexican-made vehicles into the United States and exporting U.S.-made vehicles to Latin America.
To that end, in July the port signed a "letter of intent" with Amports, one of the leading auto processing companies in the United States, to develop the facilities needed to handle unloading cars and trucks from ships at the Port of Tampa.
The port has set aside a 100,000-square-foot building at Berth 202 for a future vehicle distribution center, where vehicles can be unloaded off ships, customized and then sent off across the country via rail or truck.
Tampa, though, has competition nearly 40 miles away.
Port Manatee held its own summit on Monday. Both ports want to capture a share of the same vehicle markets. To that goal, Port Manatee dedicated a new 1,594-foot berth that can accommodate two ships at the same time and a 174,000-square-foot warehouse.
Matthew Appice, the senior director of trade development and sales for Port Manatee, said he hopes to announce a deal in the first or second quarter of 2014. But he also said that there could potentially be enough business for both ports.
"This segment is rapidly growing, and there's even rumors of new announcements coming in the next few weeks of new car companies moving into Mexico," Appice said. "There will certainly be enough for both ports in the future."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jthalji on Twitter.