TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay is beefing up its steel import/export business. Last month, Port Tampa Bay's board of directors approved a 25-year lease with a South Florida company called Steelco Florida for a 35-acre site located at Port Redwing, a port property in southern Hillsborough County near Gibsonton. For the next two years or so, Steelco will be building a brand new facility on the parcel, where the company will import, export and manufacture steel products. The timing seems right, said Wade Elliot, vice president of marketing and business development at Port Tampa Bay. Just this week, the port was awarded the title of 2017 American Metal Market's Logistics/Transportation Provider of the Year at the American Metal Market Awards for Steel Excellence ceremony in New York City.Port Tampa Bay is the state's largest port for handling steel products, Elliott said. The port has been the host of the Tampa Steel Conference, which draws hundreds of industry professionals, for the past 28 years. "Steel is our core business. We've been at it forever," he said. "Steelco fits nicely into how we're trying to develop the south county Redwing area, which is an important element in our strategic master plan." The port plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into Hooker's Point and Port Redwing to build a refrigerated warehouse and expand berths and operations there. An additional $240 million will go toward a four-phase project to build new berths by using fill from dredging the channel to create more land mass on the east side of port property. Port Tampa Bay purchased Port Redwing in 2012, and connected it to the rest of the port's operations near downtown Tampa by rail line.Related Coverage: Here's how Port Tampa Bay plans to reshape Tampa over the next 15 yearsFor the first six months of the fiscal year, steel tonnage has increased by 73 percent at the port. Shipments of scrap metal are also spiking at 107 percent. Steelco Florida executives Carlos Rodriguez and Jamal Ayoub said that a major driver to do business in Tampa was the port's access to the I-4 corridor between Tampa Bay and Orlando, its deep waterways and access to rail lines. Steelco Florida is part of Pentech, an international engineering and construction firm with offices in Spain, Argentina, South Florida, among others around the globe."We'll capitalize on our engineering, construction and financing capabilities at Pentech in developing projects under Steelco," said Rodriguez. Steelco will import raw steel materials like scrap, do production at its own facility at the port and export those goods. The bulk of the business will be selling the steel products locally and exporting them, Rodriguez said. "When you think of the steel industry, you think of big steel mills in Pittsburgh, in Ohio and Michigan. We're going to be a 'mini mill' on a smaller scale," he said. Steelco will employ up to 1,000 during the construction of its facility in Tampa and will have up to several hundred employees working at the facility once it opens around 2020. "We like to think that this will be a game changer for Tampa," Ayoub said. David Hale, CEO of Tampa Tank, a steel company that's been doing business at the Tampa port for 65 years, says there's plenty of room for more steel companies in Tampa. The company exports manufactured steel mostly in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Tampa Tank moved its operations to Port Redwing two years ago. "Everyone in the steel industry requires water access because steel is heavy and big, and we need deep channels to move it," Hale sale. Also last month, the port announced it secured more funding to widen and deepen the Big Bend Channel. Related Coverage: Port Tampa Bay secures more funding for Big Bend Channel project"Our business is different than Steelco, so they'll be a good neighbor with good synergies," Hale said. "There are a lot of highs and lows in this business. Right now we're looking to the new administration to really starting building and buying American again."Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.