The Manatee County Port Authority approved a five-year contract with Fresh Quest Inc. earning nearly $1.5 million for Port Manatee and creating about 75 new jobs.

The company will import cantaloupe and honeydew melons to Port Manatee from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and Puerto Cortes, Honduras where it owns farms and packing facilities. Fresh Quest ranks among the largest US importers of seasonal melons, from each November to May.

“Port Manatee is a good fit for our growth strategies,” explained Fresh Quest President Mario Cardenas. “We intend to maximize the port’s proximity to Central America and our US and Canadian customer base, to minimize expenses and enhance delivery of a fresher, better product for the consumer.”

The Canadian-based company plans 22 seasonal voyages to the port each year. Exports bound for Central America will include used automobiles, farm equipment and agricultural supplies.

“This occasion brings to a close a four-year courtship between Fresh Quest and Port Manatee,” said David L. McDonald, Port Manatee’s executive director. “It puts people back to work with good-paying jobs, while providing the foundation for new and expanded opportunities for more imports and exports to Central America.”

Liberty Terminals, LLC will provide stevedoring services for Fresh Quest and Customized Brokers, Inc. will handle all aspects of the import process including US Customs clearance and compliance.

“Fresh Quest, Port Manatee and Liberty Terminals have worked hard to deliver this piece of business to Tampa Bay,” said Richard Tager, vice president of Liberty Terminals. “Our new relationship with Fresh Quest reinforces Liberty’s leadership as a perishables cargo specialist.”

Port Manatee operates more refrigerated warehouse capacity than any other US Gulf of Mexico port and is located at the entrance to Tampa Bay. It ranks among Florida’s largest and fastest growing deepwater seaports.