TAMPA (FOX 13) - Skyscrapers aren't the only thing that dot the Tampa skyline. The bright orange gantry cranes at Port Tampa Bay are an open invitation for new trade and growth for the city.
Every day, millions of dollars in cargo come and go from the port in giant containers. Container trade is the future. It's ultra competitive in Florida, and Tampa wants its part of the game.
Vigo, Alessi and Rooms To Go are just a few of the companies that ship cargo in and out of the port. Soon, Publix and a new refrigerated storage site will come.
Big things are happening at the port. It's more important now than ever to increase inbound and outbound hauls.
Vice president of Ports America's commercial division, Doug Wray, says to get those bigger hauls, they needed taller cranes that stretched farther.
"If you don't have the big cranes," Wray said, "They'll never even consider Tampa."
These new cranes are magnificent and can handle ships twice the size. On any given day, a thousand containers can move through this port.
It all happens under the watchful eye of Engineering Manager Dietmar Reuten. It's a 10-hour work day hoisting and lifting -- and that's just one load, on a good day.
He invited us up 150 feet to a cabin perched halfway up the monstrous 16,000-ton crane.
On a computerized track, we rode out over the water to the end of a huge boom. "Here we're only half speed," Reuten said, pushing the gear shift forward, "Now we go a little faster. Now this is the maximum speed."
Once in position, he lowered a huge spreader that dropped down and picked up these containers, often two at a time.
And it's all powered by a giant nerve center of computers and a German engine Reuten didn't mind bragging about at all. "This is the nice thing about the new cranes. These cranes can go out 174 feet," he said, "and this is built for the next generation of ships -- post-Panama Max."
Post Panamax -- the expanded, deepened and improved Panama Canal. That means bigger ships to Tampa.
But the cranes are just the first step in making Port Tampa Bay a real contender in a highly competitive state.
"We need a way to bring cargo down into the market," Wray explained, "and the main way to do that, I see, is by rail from the Southeast and key manufacturing points."
But rail service to Tampa is tough. CSX is the only rail line. "On the container side, they have not operated big on the west coast," he said.
For too long, Wray says Tampa has been overlooked. "Hopefully with a change in leadership, we'll see if CSX can come to a point of pricing Tampa competitively."
CSX Transportation Media Manager Laura Phelps said they are discussing the opportunity to move refrigerated cargo by rail between the port and growing Midwest markets.
Which brings us back to new trade deals and the cranes, where Reuten let FOX 13's Laura Moody give the big gantry crane a go.
VIDEO: Watch above to see how Laura did