We tend to focus on Miami and Jacksonville for international trade coming out of Florida, thinking of them as the only gateway to Central and South America. However, there is another port in Florida that is a primary resource for international trade. Port Tampa Bay ranks 16th in the United States by tonnage in domestic trade, 32nd in foreign trade, and 22nd in total trade. It is the largest, most diversified port in Florida, has an economic impact of more than $15.1 billion, and supports over 80,000 jobs.
Tampa Bay was first mapped by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The port was a safe, warm-water harbor that made it an ideal location for trade between the then-Spanish colony and Cuba. This trade included Cattle, hide, lumber, and more. After the United States had acquired Florida from Spain, the port flourished. New industry and resources led to massive growth in the 1800s. By 1929, a 27-foot channel was in place. The port was a major resource for the United States during World War II, and today the Port is maintained by Port Tampa Bay, Port Authority, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
The Tampa seaport, Florida’s largest by acreage, already handles cargo bound for Cuba under waivers to the embargo that allows sales of U.S. agricultural products. In the past 5 years, the seaport has sent about 70.000 tons of freight to Cuba, mostly fertilizer. Other trade lanes of the port include the Caribbean Islands, Central America, and Asia. Port Tampa Bay handles a variety of different industries, such as furniture, electronics, automobiles, construction, and foodstuff. It additionally sees over 900,000 commercial passengers a year in association with various cruise lines.
Port Story is a new series detailing the history and operations of trade ports across the United States and the world. Want to see a port that interests you? Let us know in the comments below!