With major facilities at the Port of Wilmington and the Port of Morehead City, North Carolina ports have long served as key gateways connecting the rest of our state’s transportation and commerce networks to the global economy. These crucial economic engines fuel the creation of more than 75,000 direct and indirect jobs statewide and generate $707 million in annual tax revenue, all while bringing a $14 billion annual contribution to the state’s economy. Now, thanks in large part to a $35 million reoccurring budget item for capital improvements – the first-ever such investment for state ports, secured in 2015 with the NC Chamber’s support – our state is sending a message that, as we work to proactively protect our infrastructure future, we’re making a long-term commitment to our ports, and to the customers these facilities serve, both in our state and around the globe.
“As we get bigger, the world gets smaller,” touts the North Carolina State Ports Authority, the agency responsible for operating these key commerce outlets. That’s no empty boast, either. Significant investments are being made to enable our ports at Wilmington and Morehead City to handle larger ships with more cargo, and to move that cargo more quickly and efficiently to and from inland markets. Expansions have already allowed the Port of Wilmington to accommodate post-Panamax ships with lengths up to 300 meters and breadths up to 48 meters. Just this past summer, the Yang-Ming Unity became the largest ship to make use of these expanded capabilities. And future improvements will see the Port of Wilmington expand further to accommodate multiple post-Panamax container ships at the same time, enabling our state to compete directly with other leading East Coast ports.
Plans are also in place to increase the capacity for North Carolina ports to safely store perishable goods on-site (101,537 square feet of initial construction for terminal cold storage, with 200,000 square feet of expansion space planned). This is a game-changer that will allow us to send more Tar Heel staples, like sweet potatoes, pork and poultry, to international markets, and to import foreign products in larger and larger amounts, providing a major boost to North Carolina’s food processing and import/export sectors. (Click here for a detailed list of these and other improvement projects underway at North Carolina ports.)
North Carolina is in perhaps a stronger position than any other state to secure its competitive statewide transportation future. We have the best East/West highway infrastructure in the country, along with a strategic location on the central East Coast that places upwards of 170 million North American consumers, more than 65 of the nation’s top 100 metro areas, and nearly 60 percent of U.S. retail sales all within a thousand miles of our state’s borders. We’ve got some of the best airport and railroad infrastructure in the country, including five major airports, a major intermodal transportation park (Global TransPark), more than 3,600 miles of track, and the promise of new investments from rail giants like CSX Transportation. Our numerous Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) help to provide global companies with access to investment benefits they simply won’t find anywhere else.
Now, with these new commitments being made to maximize the ability of our ports to compete for global commerce, North Carolina is positioning itself to one day be able to give job creators access to one of the premier transportation networks in the entire world. That’s a bold statement to be sure. But our elected leaders are proving they have the courage and foresight it will take to back it up. Here at the NC Chamber, we are too. As we continue to fight for the public policies we will need to secure a strong economic future for our state, we will remain focused on strengthening investments in our entire statewide transportation network, including pursuing new ways to capitalize on the economic potential of North Carolina’s ports. After all, in this era of the truly global jobs race, this is a competitive advantage we simply cannot afford to let fall by the wayside.
Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber