Panama Canal to fuel business opportunities

Tuesday, April 20 2010 @ 03:10 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

By GRACE GAGLIANO - ggagliano@bradenton.com - SARASOTA — Water Treatment Warehouse is optimistic about future business opportunities in Panama. The expansion of the Panama Canal could allow the Sarasota County manufacturer to build on the estimated $500,000 in annual revenue it generates from Panamanian clients. “The goal here is trying to find ways to be more aggressive in the Latin American market,” said Ivan Garcia, international sales manager for Water Treatment Warehouse. Many regional business professionals shared that same goal Monday as at least 150 attended “Opportunity Panama,” a conference examining how the expansion of the Panama Canal may boost import/export business. Trade industry experts leading the conference at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota said they see major business growth looming for Port Manatee due to the expansion of the canal, expected to be completed in 2014. Bill Ralph, a transportation consultant and economist, projects the canal expansion will bring about 80 percent more cargo through the canal. Currently, the canal can support ships carrying 5,000 TEUs — or 20-foot equivalent units. The expansion will increase that capacity to ships carrying 12,500 TEUs. In addition, ports on the East Coast of the United States are expected to receive 31 percent of Asian exports, up from the 15 percent the ports received in 2000.

“This is really a trade opportunity that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Ralph said. For Water Treatment Warehouse, a manufacturer of water treatment equipment, Garcia said the expansion is coming at a good time because the demand for its product is growing in Latin America. “The expansion of the canal is making exports and imports a little more flexible, which will allow us to do better service,” Garcia said. “There’s a huge need for clean water in Panama and Latin American countries and for the past three years we’ve been expanding our business opportunities in Panama.” Port Manatee, too, expects to build on its regional economic impact of more than $2.3 billion a year. The port will build a 52-acre container yard so it can handle more cargo. In addition, the port has reserved more than 3,500 acres of nearby land for port-related development.

Matt Gehman, director of ports and maritime for Manhard Consulting, said these efforts are among some advantages Port Manatee will have in competing with other southeast ports for the Panama-routed business. In comparison to ports in Charleston, Jacksonville, and New York/New Jersey, Gehman said Port Manatee ranks favorably in land available to expand its terminal, clearances vessels need to safely pass under bridges, nearby consumer population and its proximity to the Panama Canal. “It looks very encouraging for Port Manatee,” Gehman said. “I think these will be some of the major reasons you will find some conducting business and moving business here.”

Charles McSwain, a business consultant specializing in logistics and rail, attended the conference to hear about the business potential available in Manatee County. McSwain said he sees Port Manatee as a big player in the canal expansion because of the land it has available to develop. “The biggest opportunity in Manatee County is the large amount of land it has available for creating logistics opportunities,” McSwain said. “Other ports will be at a disadvantage because they are landlocked.”

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