Recovery Act funds provide stimulus to Port of Tampa
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08/31/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

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More than $10 million of federal stimulus funding is coming to four ship repair businesses in the Tampa Bay area. One Port of Tampa company, Gulf Marine Repair, is receiving more than $4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand the width of its dry-dock ship repair operation.

During a press conference Monday morning, a deck barge and a tug boat received blasting, coating, and steel work on the dry dock at Gulf Marine Repair. Their Vice President of Operations, Rick Watts, says the Recovery Act funding will allow Gulf Marine to hire 30 to 50 additional employees.

“The funds will enable us to start immediately on the … dock that you see behind us. The plan is to widen that dry dock to accommodate the larger vessels and the barges that we dry-dock for our customers. It will allow us to put a lot of people to work right away. We anticipate up to 50 new jobs coming about because of all this.”

Last July, Watts says, Gulf Marine had 310 employees, but that number was down to 140 last month. He anticipates rehiring some of those who were laid off, in part because of the stimulus funding. The dry-dock can now accommodate vessels that are up to 86.5 feet wide, but Watts says that widening the dock will allow vessels over 100 feet wide to be repaired on Gulf Marine’s dry dock.

“We’ve ordered material now. Material is probably six to eight weeks away. Once we start getting material rolling in, we’ll start doing prefabrication and we’ll get the ball rolling. And again we anticipate this to be about a 12-month project and we’ll be complete.”

Three other Tampa-area ship repair companies, International Ship and Marine Services, Tampa Ship, and Riverhawk Marine, are also receiving funds from the Maritime Administration’s Small Shipyard grants program that was allocated $100 million through the Recovery Act. Tampa-area U.S. Representative Kathy Castor calls the awards to Tampa’s port “a tremendous shot in the arm to our economy.”

“Considering that President Obama and the Congress set aside $98 million for these Shipyard Grants [an additional $2 million goes toward grant administration], the Port of Tampa is doing very well through the over $10 million that will come here to create jobs. In fact, the Port of Tampa will receive over half of the Small Shipyards grant dollars that are coming to the state of Florida. So when you consider our large ports we have throughout the state - in Port Everglades, Canaveral, Miami - to think that over half of those shipyard grants are coming to the Port of Tampa is great news for the Tampa Bay area.”

On top of those Small Shipyards grants, Castor says the Port of Tampa will receive “$2.2 million to reconstruct a pier and replace a bulkhead.” The repair of the REK pier – which provides the primary source of petroleum for the region from Ft. Meyers to Ocala to Orlando - will allow about 280 jobs to be retained according to Castor.

“That is critically important. The bulkhead is on the brink of collapse and could have led to the complete shut-down of the port. This is where all of the fuel comes in for west-central Florida and keeps our economy on the move. It would have been disastrous if the REK pier had fallen into total disrepair.”

Castor says the largest port in the state drives an economic impact in the Tampa Bay region of over $8 billion. One of the largest Recovery Act projects in the area, the I-4 / Crosstown connector will also enhance operations at the port. More than $105 million in stimulus funding will be used to build a highway connecting the Port of Tampa, Interstate 4, and the Crosstown Expressway, allowing port traffic to bypass surface roads through Ybor City. Port of Tampa director Richard Wainio looks forward to the completion of the I-4 / Crosstown Connector.

“We move on average right now over 11,000 trucks daily … in and out of this port and that number is going to increase geometrically as we grow the container business and other activities around here. That obviously is the key driver that supports the need for a massive project like the I-4 Connector.”

Stuart Rogel, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, says he is “very grateful” that the I-4 / Crosstown Connector will be funded by the Recovery Act. Rogel predicts it will help the Port of Tampa “continue to be a major growth engine for our entire region.”

“This four-year project will create some 12,000 jobs, and it’s timed with the expansion of the port and the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014. So it will create jobs today, it will create a major piece of infrastructure that is needed today, but will establish the opportunity to have future growth as we are lined up strategically with the port expansion here in the Port of Tampa and in the entire region.”

Representative Kathy Castor expects the connector project to “support more than 12,000 jobs.”

Castor says that Recovery Act funds like those being used for the I-4 / Crosstown Connector, replacement of the port’s bulkhead, and the Small Shipyard grants to the four repair companies will help stimulate the region’s economy.

Gulf Marine Repair

ARRA

Small Shipyard Grants

Maritime Administration

Tampa Bay Partnership

Florida Office of Economic Recovery

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