Tampa's Mayor reacts to our I-Team Investigation on Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay lags way behind in cargo shipping

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is reacting to our I-Team Investigation of Port Tampa Bay.

The ABC Action News I-Team discovered Tampa’s seaport is lagging smaller Florida ports when it comes to the shipping container business. I-Team Investigator Jarrod Holbrook also revealed the Tampa port's chief executive officer, Paul Anderson, makes one of the highest port salaries in the country.

Buckhorn, a port authority board member, says while he's optimistic about his city’s port, its container business has to grow, if the CEO wants to keep his job.

"If the performance does not measure the compensation, then we can make changes," Buckhorn says of Anderson. "It's a lot of money. It's more than twice what I make."

The I-Team recently revealed Anderson makes more than $382,000 a year. That's more than the port bosses in New York and Los Angeles make, even though those giant ports bring in millions of shipping containers every year.

But only 39,000 shipping containers came in and out of Tampa's port in 2015, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Smaller ports like Jacksonville (755,452), Miami (765,980), and Port Everglades (716,182) all shipped more than 700,000 containers.

Asked if taxpayers are paying Anderson too much, Buckhorn said, "Y’know, it's a competitive marketplace. The board made those decisions.”

The mayor added, “We're comfortable where his salary is right now. But I think we're going to expect a lot out of him. If he's going to get paid that kind of money, then he's gonna have to prove himself and he's gonna have to deliver over time."

Buckhorn was asked if Anderson has delivered yet.

"Not yet,” the mayor said. “Not yet, but I also recognize this is a long haul."

See our original I-Team Port Investigation here: http://wfts.tv/2mAWbor

"Obviously, the container business at the port is not where we hope it will be,” Buckhorn said. “I don't think it is where it will end up at some point."

The I-Team also uncovered big local businesses like Rooms To Go are barely using Tampa's port. Those businesses are more often using ports farther away, like Jacksonville.

Locally based Stone-Mart is considering leaving Tampa's port because the cost is too high.

"If we were in Jacksonville or Miami, we would be making a million dollars more a year and have less overhead," said Ugur Ozer of Stone-Mart.

Buckhorn says it hit home when he saw local businesses using ports on the other side of the state.

“That goes right to the heart of: ‘why are we not competitive?’" the mayor said.

Buckhorn says Tampa's port is the second-largest economic engine in the Bay area, behind MacDill Air Force Base.

The mayor hopes a pair of large cranes, which cost the port $22 million and taxpayers helped pay for, will increase the container numbers.

But it could take years before that investment pays off.

"I think that is tax dollars that is well spent. But again, at the end of the day,” Buckhorn said, “the performance and the results are gonna speak for themselves. And that's how we're gonna judge Mr. Anderson."

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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