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Port Manatee, Port Tampa Bay competition grows after conference snub


March 21, 2014 

PORT MANATEE -- Tampa Port Authority Officials at the opening reception for an international pineapple conference hosted by Port Tampa Bay wasted no time Wednesday night when they ejected Port Manatee's representative at the door. 

It was hardly the sort of welcome associated with the fruit, a traditional Southern symbol of hospitality.

Matty Appice, the port's senior director of trade development, was met by a Port Tampa Bay official and a security guard at the reception table at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina. 

Although Port Manatee had paid to register (which was refunded in full by the IPO prior to the conference) him for the event, Tampa port personnel turned Appice away because the event has a "one-port policy."

"It's the first time I've ever seen security at a networking event," Appice said.

The snub was the crescendo in a spat between the two ports over the conference. Last week, IPO officials refunded the port's registration for the event, stating that it would allow only one port to attend the pineapple industry event. 

Port Tampa Bay is hosting the event at the hotel and on port property.

Emails obtained by The Herald under Florida's Sunshine Law show that IPO did not want to turn Port Manatee away. 

An IPO representative indicated in one of the emails that it did not want to jeopardize the substantial investment made by Port Tampa Bay in choosing to host the IPO Global Pineapple Conference. 

The IPO welcomed a similar efffort and investment by Port Manatee at a later date.

Port Manatee is currently the Port of Choice for  Fresh Del Monte, the Largest Pineapple importer in North America.

The IPO also completely refunded registration from Port Canaveral.

Port Manatee is the largest importer of pineapples in the state, and the only port on the Gulf Coast to handle the tropical fruit. It brings in about 80,000 tons of pineapple each year for Fresh Del Monte, a client that leases production and warehouse space on the port's property in Palmetto. 

Fresh Del Monte was one of the conference attendees, according to Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras.*

*(In reality, Andres Dubois of Logistec, Fresh Del Monte Stevedor service at Port Manatee was present at the IPO Global Pineapple Conference in Tampa Bay held at Port Tampa Bay Cruise ship terminal 6 on Thursday March 20, 2014.)

Although port officials knew Appice might be turned away, they were still surprised when the issue came up at Thursday's regular Manatee County Port Authority meeting.

Port Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said the move probably comes out of jealousy. 

She noted that Port Tampa lacks land to grow its business, while Port Manatee has thousands of acres surrounding it slated for industrial development.

"They're just a little nervous that the new kid on the block is growing," 
DiSabatino said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac was blunt in summing up the situation. She said it's time for Port Manatee to compete hard for business and build itself into south Florida's most desirable port.

"We need to show them that we can beat them," 
Benac said.

Although the two ports do partner on training their security forces and on navigation issues, port Commissioner Larry Bustle said he believes the schism between the ports is intractable. During the two years he served as chairman of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, he said the council had no trouble getting most competing businesses and entities to work together on building their business.

The only exception was Port Tampa Bay, which refused to work with the council.

"We were rebuffed," Bustle said.

Chairwoman Carol Whitmore struck the most conciliatory note at the meeting. She said she still hopes Port Tampa Bay will see fit to work with Port Manatee as a business and marketing partner.

"This is just a little blip," Whitmore said.

The two ports have sparred over other issues recently. 

Late last year, the Manatee port authority got wind that Port Tampa Bay was interested in absorbing Port Manatee in a merger.

Authority commissioners voted unanimously to resist any such effort.

Port Manatee has an opportunity to be the more reasonable party in the dispute. 

Port Manatee Commissioners suggested that the port hold its own IPO Global Pineapple Conference, inviting all other ports - including Port Tampa Bay.

"The objective of holding an IPO Global Pineapple Conference is to highlight that particular facility it would be counter productive to have competitors distract from a particular port" stated IPO Executive Director, Will Cavan.

 IPO co-founder Will Cavan offered a solution to Port Manatee in an email this week to bring his conference to the port as early as next year.

"The IPO is an INCLUSIVE Organization and we welcome the Port of Manatee's interest in hosting a Global Pineapple Conference in the very near future, so that the Pineapple Supply chain can learn about Port Manatee." Said Cavan.

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