TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — U.S. Representative Kathy Castor spoke at Port Tampa Bay to discuss the impact of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s investment in the port and how it could help alleviate supply chain bottlenecks that are currently hammering U.S. markets.

The congresswoman focused on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s investment in Tampa Bay and how the money will help the port modernize to alleviate supply chain issues. Castor was joined by Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson.

“Port Tampa Bay is one of the state of Florida’s most important economic engines. It’s Florida’s largest sea port, it handles over 37 tons of cargo every year. Physically it’s one of the largest ports in the Untied States of America, so it is poised to grow,” Castor said.

Port Tampa Bay supports 85,000 jobs locally, according to a released statement from the Congresswoman ahead of the event. Castor said the investment from the BIL will lead to lower costs and lower prices, and a free flow of commerce in Tampa Bay.

“What is beautiful here about Port Tampa Bay is that it is one of the most diversified ports in the United States. That has really sustained us during economic downturns over the past decade and it is one of the strengths here of the Tampa Bay area,” Castor said.

From orange juice to construction materials, Castor said the heart and soul of Port Tampa Bay is its diversified shipping of products and ability to maintain and repair ships on-site. She said the port helps to provide economic opportunity for both the state and its neighbors.

“Port Tampa Bay is central to the vision of what we want to continue to do here in building our economy and providing economic opportunities for all of our neighbors,” Castor said. “Port Tampa Bay is poised to benefit significantly by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Ports across America will receive over $5 billion in infrastructure investments. We’re talking about the navigation channel, simply dredging in Tampa. Already the Army Corps. of Engineers has received a bipartisan request from the congressional delegation to keep the Tampa harbor free flowing and dredged and up to date with all of the new technology that we have.”

Castor said the investments would put money into operations and maintenance and resiliency, for the changing climate’s effects on rising temperatures and rising sea levels. The BIL would provide the resources necessary to help Port Tampa Bay and aid the growing communities of Tampa that surround the port.

“This new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has new investments to help lower the carbon footprint and emissions that emanate from a lot of the port operations,” Castor said. “That means the air we breathe will be cleaner and we’ll take a stab at reducing the costly impacts of climate change.”

The congresswoman also said that the dollars flowing into the port will do more than lift business and create opportunities. The overall benefits of the infrastructure investments in Tampa will include work on roadways, water systems, and the local community.

The port’s handling of “cement, steel, pipelines” for construction efforts across the southeast makes it a “lynchpin for creating jobs and providing economic opportunities as we repair our infrastructure across the Tampa Bay region.”

Port President and CEO Paul Anderson spoke next. He discussed the work that occurs at the port, such as repairs on ships, defense contracts, and the importance of the infrastructure investment to affect supply chain snarls that are currently affecting markets across the U.S. and the globe.

“The good news is, as the nation’s supply chain is experiencing backlogs and delays, Port Tampa Bay remains open for business,” Anderson said. “We are open every day, 24/7, 365 to serve the customers that serve the region of Tampa Bay. And to the world, and to our shipping customers that own cargo, we want your business here in Port Tampa Bay. I’m asking for it here today.”

Anderson said they have global connections and no congestion, and the port’s handling of diverse cargo gives the local operation some immunity to economic downturns. He said that was visibly apparent during the previous financial crisis and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were bringing in materials that you saw ongoing during the pandemic,” Anderson said. “Road building materials, aggregates, steel, lumber for housing, as well as being the largest fuel gateway in the state of Florida, bringing in almost half the fuel that Florida’s citizens use every day, as well as a major cruise hub.”

Anderson said there were six cruise vessels at the port since November for maintenance and that they were “almost back to full speed.” He said the infrastructure investment would help keep American ports competitive in the global marketplace and it was a positive step for the nation. By boosting important programs like Port Tampa Bay’s portion of the Port Infrastructure Development Grant Program and modernizing America’s ports, investment in growing container facilities and investment in freight systems helps to get products to American consumers more efficiently.

He said Port Tampa Bay has received $20 million from the grant program thanks to Rep. Castor’s support.

“Our nation was founded as a seafaring nation, our cities grew up around our ports not the other way around,” Anderson said. “Port Tampa Bay impacts over 85,000 jobs in this community and a $17.2 billion economic impact, so Port Tampa Bay is ready to serve as a supply chain solution to some of the congestion that we’re seeing at other ports around the nation. We can offer a solution due to the intentional investments that have been made at our port’s infrastructure.”

Anderson thanked Castor for her “tireless support” and advocacy for Port Tampa Bay, and for her leadership for the “historic generational investment” in the country’s infrastructure.

Castor and Anderson responded to questions on what the investment would do at Port Tampa Bay.

“So the dollars that will flow from this act to our port and our nation’s ports will help us immediately get new capacity, for example, to our container terminal. Our container business grew by 30% last year. We have planned for a 50% increase this coming year, so those our consumer goods,” Anderson said. “We’re going to expand the terminal so we can handle, instead of two ships at a time, three ships at a time. New cranes, new berths, new pavement which you need to store the containers as well as new gates to help create infrastructure movement, truck movement in and out of the port.”

Referring to Castor’s mention of work to reduce the carbon footprint, Anderson highlighted the investment in green energy to reduce the emissions of trucks delivering goods across the country.

Castor said the shipping of cement and steel for use in the construction the BIL will provide for will come through Port Tampa Bay and help create thousands of jobs. Combining that with increased long-term sustainability “is a win-win,” Castor said.

“We have a very strong track record of delivering for Tampa, Port Tampa Bay,” Castor said. “For example, over the past two years, it’s only been Tampa and Hillsborough County in the state of Florida and one of the only communities in the entire United States that has won two consecutive years of the RAISE grants, those are the grants that are repairing the ‘Big Bend,’ I-75 interchange. Also extending the Riverwalk into West Tampa.”

Castor said the stormwater sidewalk improvements from Tampa Heights to Seminole Heights were another example of how they were “fighting for every dollar” to support Tampa Bay.

Anderson responded to more questions on supply chain concerns, saying that Port Tampa Bay had a “distinct advantage” in serving the supply chain needs of Florida’s residents and the millions of visitors that come to the Sunshine State each year.

How quickly the help arrives, though, is a subject to consider. The infrastructure law passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden plans for the long-term. While it may help to set up a more stable economic foundation going forward, the fact that the plan works in years and not months means financial relief is over the horizon, not nearby.

It is unclear how quickly the impact on the Tampa Bay community will be felt, though new jobs and development are positives for local workers and would add to the growth promised by Biden and his Democratic allies.

The ongoing inflation is a concern for more than just local consumers though. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, and the rest of the central bank’s leadership, signaled yesterday they would be speeding up their return to normal spending and stepping away from stimulus bond purchases in an effort to stabilize the inflation rate across the country.