Port Manatee is located on the southwestern shores of Florida's Tampa Bay in Palmetto. It is just nine nautical-miles (16 kilometers or 10 miles by air) south-southeast of St. Petersburg on the northern side of Tampa Bay. It is about 21 nautical-miles (34 kilometers or 21 miles by air) southwest of Tampa. Manatee County is home to almost 323 thousand people, while over 14 thousand people live in the City of Palmetto.
When Hernando De Soto explored what is now Florida in the 1600s, he found an established settlement of Pohoy people's on the south shores of Tampa Bay. By the early 1700s, nearly all Pohoy had been wiped out by epidemics.
Europeans did not visit the area again until Josh Gates and his party of pioneers arrived at the shores of the Manatee River in 1842. Manatee County was established in 1855. The waterways that provided excellent transportation supported the rapid growth of the area. Later roads, bridges, and railroads brought increased growth to Manatee County.
Local industry, fishing, and agriculture helped Port Manatee and Manatee County weather the Great Depression in the 1930s. After World War II, Manatee County experienced a growth spurt, not only in residential areas but in commercial areas as well with industry, tourism, retail, and education growing rapidly.
In the 1950s, realtor Bob Kessler envisioned a busy seaport on the shores where the Manatee River met Tampa Bay. In 1965, Manatee County bought 357 acres to launch a Barge Port and Industrial Port which was eventually named Port Manatee. That same year, the Florida legislature created the Manatee County Port Authority.
In the late summer of 1970, the M/V Fermland docked at Port Manatee, and the official dedication ceremony for Port Manatee was held in October. During the 1970s, Port Manatee was used primarily by the petroleum and phosphate industries, and fertilizer warehouses and petroleum tanks lined the shores. In 1971, the biggest ship that ever landed in Tampa Bay, the Zenkoren Maru No. 5, arrived in Port Manatee with 12 thousand tons of potash.
In the early 1980s, petroleum and phosphates were still the major commodities traveling through Port Manatee, but the port was also handling scrap metal, plywood, and waste paper. The 1980s also saw the addition of two new berths in Port Manatee. In 1983, The Eastern Portland Cement Company began to import cement in Port Manatee. In 1989, Del Monte began fresh produce operations in Port Manatee, and the port terminal became the second biggest facility in the United States. That year, Warehouse 6 was constructed for Del Monte. In 1999, Port Manatee was awarded Foreign Trade Zone 169.
From 1993 until 2003, Regal Cruises sailed from Port Manatee's Berth 9. In 2001, work began on the Gulfstream Natural Gas system's pipeline to move natural gas through Port Manatee. Construction of the four-acre (174 thousand square foot) Warehouse 11, Port Manatee's biggest, was completed in 2007. Port Manatee undertook container shipping in 2007 when the Gottwald HMK 6407 Mobile Harbor Container Crane was first used. In 2009, Port Manatee became the tenth United States port to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Panama Canal Authority.
The Manatee County Port Authority approved phase one of Port Manatee's new $750 million master plan. The plan included adding a dedicated container terminal next to Port Manatee's 482.8-meter (1584-foot) Berth 12. The master plan also called for the addition of a second mobile harbor container crane, berth upgrades, and new cold storage facilities.
The Port Manatee Encouragement Zone was established in 2009 to attract distribution facilities and major shippers to the port. Today, Port Manatee contributes over $2.3 billion each year to the regional economy and provides over 24 thousand jobs.