Florida Seaport Consolidation and Competition Draws Fresh Attention from Former Canaveral CEO

Tampa Bay Business Journal

The former Port Canaveral CEO says Florida should consider consolidating the state’s 15 seaports and “even the long-whispered state port authority,” among other ideas to spend public money more efficiently and effectively.

J. Stanley “Stan” Payne offered his views in a Dec. 27 op-ed piece in the Tallahassee Democrat, prompted in part by ongoing Tampa Bay Business Journal coverage of rough seas between Port Manatee and the Port of Tampa, and the Florida Department of Transportation’s efforts to promote better cooperation between the Tampa Bay ports and other Florida seaports.
“Let’s clear up one issue with something that has needed to be said for some time. Florida ports do compete against each other,” Payne wrote. “Most of Florida’s cargo ports covet and actively pursue the sprawling Orlando/Central Florida market in the state’s center.”

That’s certainly true on the Tampa Bay waterfront, where the Manatee and Tampa ports have stepped up efforts to lure more container cargo and develop auto processing terminals.

Payne wrote that it is “sometimes difficult but not always impossible to avoid using state money for projects that support Florida ports in competition with ports in other states, but also contribute to the competition with each other for the same markets.”

Last fall FDOT held several meetings with officials from the two ports “to foster port cooperation – not port consolidation.” Manatee responded by passing a Nov. 21 resolution to “oppose any consolidation effort.” For now, future cooperation between the two ports appears to have reached an impasse.

On Thursday, Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler sent to an email to the state’s port executives complaining about the “critical and cynical nature of the [Payne] piece” and suggesting the organization would issue a response. The nonprofit corporation serves as the professional association for the state’s 15 seaports and their management.

Reached Friday morning by TBBJ, Wheeler said one of the shortcomings of the article was that Payne neglected to mention that state money for port infrastructure is matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis by each of the ports. “He ignores this is a partnership between the ports and the state,” Wheeler said in a brief conversation that was disconnected due to his remote location.

The conversation is expected to continue later Friday.

Payne did not immediately return a call to his Summit Strategic Partners management consulting firm in Melbourne.

Prior to his nine-year tenure at Canaveral (he was fired in March 2013 for administrative reasons, including high turnover on his staff), Payne was deputy executive director of the Virgina Port Authority. The 1950s consolidation of that state’s three ports and an inland intermodal facility was cited in a Dec. 4 TBBJ story, referenced in his op-ed.

“Because of this increasing amount of public dollars now flowing to Florida ports, there is simply more reason to look at ways to make the system better both from the perspective of the ports and FDOT,” Payne wrote. “This will ensure public dollars are not used to fuel ruinous competition that not only undermines the system but also contributes nothing to promote competition against ports outside of Florida, which should be the primary goal.”

The entire piece is available here.

On the Web