I-Team: Port Tampa Bay lags way behind in number of cargo containers shipped

Local businesses forced to use other ports

Port Tampa Bay collects more than $10 million in your property taxes every year, they also get millions in state and federal grants. But are they making the most of your money?

For weeks our I-Team sifted through records, and found that in a very important category, Port Tampa Bay is way behind.   

When you hear Tampa's Port CEO Paul Anderson speak, "For you viewers out there we are the number one port in the state of Florida. You should be very proud of the port of Tampa Bay." You may think Tampa's on top.

"Our states largest and most diverse port....and one of the most successful ports in the nation," Anderson tells a crowd at his 2017 State of the Port address.

But the I-Team uncovered numbers Anderson doesn't want to talk to us about.

Reporter: "Mr. Anderson, Jarrod Holbrook ABC Action News good to meet you. Is there a reason why you won't sit down and interview with us sir?"
Anderson: "No I have no reason not to sit down and interview with you."
Reporter: "Ok we got an email from your office saying you have no interest in sitting down and talking to us."

An email to the I-Team from Edward Miyagishima Port Tampa Bay's VP of Communications and External Affairs states, ".....we believe there is no reason for a face-to-face interview."

While Anderson brags about the weight of containers coming in, "...for an annual total of over 37 million tons!" he says during his 2017 State of the Port speech.

The Tampa Port is lagging way behind when it comes to the number of containers coming in.

In 2015, Tampa, the largest Florida port land wise, shipped a total of 39 thousand (39,761) cargo containers, according to the most recent data by the Army Corps of Engineers.

But smaller ports like Jacksonville shipped more than 700 thousand (755,452). Miami (765,980). And Port Everglades (716,182) Also topped 700 thousand.         

"Being in Tampa is a disadvantage in my business" says Omer Ozer.

Omer and his brother Ugur own Stonemart, one of the biggest importers for stone and tile in Florida. They have been using Tampa's port exclusively for 15 years. But now, they are considering leaving and alternative resources.

"We really love to stay in this town, we really enjoy here for family and everything but of course from business point, it doesn't really make sense to stay in Tampa.  I'd rather be in Jacksonville or Miami" Omer says.

Omer says Tampa's port only has one major ship line run by Zim, and the other ship line, MSC, piggybacks off Zim's ships. They say a lack of competition drives up prices.

 "If we were in Jacksonville or Miami we would be making more than a million dollars a year and have less overhead." Ugur says.

 "Tampa bay customers will end up paying more because the cost of freight to Tampa port is higher" Omer adds.
 

The I-Team found other big companies based here are mostly using other ports.

National chain, Rooms To Go, while headquartered in our area , is using Jacksonville's port way more than Tampa.

According to industry used data company, ImportGenius.com, they've shipped more than 11 thousand (11,775) containers in Jacksonville, and only 588 in Tampa all of last year.

Rooms To Go's CEO Jeffrey Seaman tells us there just aren't enough ships coming into Tampa.  

Local Kanes Furniture shipped 1,536 to Jacksonville while only shipping 122 to Tampa.

Badcock Furniture shipped 1,507 in Jacksonville and only 89 in Tampa.

"Tampa freight has always been higher than the rest of the ports" says Scott Taylor

Scott knows about freight costs, he's Vice President of American Chung Nam, he says they're one of the largest exporters per container in the world.

Scott tells us they have business in Tampa, but use other ports to save money.

"We have been forced to haul a lot of our business up to Jacksonville" Scott says. 

Reporter: "Can you explain why businesses based here in Tampa, are using other ports other than Tampa?"
Anderson: "Listen we have been in a growth of our business here.  We have the most diversified port in the state of Florida. That's something our citizens are so happy for.  It's like your portfolio of your 401k."

Your tax dollars are paying Anderson one of the highest port CEO salaries in the country.

Anderson makes more than $382,287 a year.

That's 93-thousand more than the New York/New Jersey port CEO. Their CEO makes $289,000 (according to data on their website).

Anderson makes 58-thousand more than L.A.'s port boss who brings in $324,788 per year.

Both New York's and LA's ports bring in millions of containers each every year compared to Anderson's 39 thousand.

According to recent Army Corps of Engineers data, in 2015 NY/NJ brought in 4,613,058 and LA brought in 5,526,289.  

(As Anderson walks away)            
Reporter: "Don't you want to explain to taxpayers Mr. Anderson?"

Local business owners say one solution is more competition in ship lines. Owners tell us that will create more competitive pricing per containers.

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Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on Facebook, Twitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com.

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