WILMINGTON – Last week, residents along the Cape Fear River in Wilmington watched as two massive cranes were erected in Wilmington Port. Seventeen boats from federal, state and local agencies helped safely guide the ship carrying the cranes up the Cape Fear River and into the port. They began their journey in January from Shanghai in Asia to N.C. A third neo-Panamax crane will arrive later this year.
The Cape Fear was temporarily closed as the cranes made their journey up the river on a 767-foot-long Zhen Hua vessel. Watch parties were held at Waterfront Park in Southport and Riverlights Marina and River Road Park in Wilmington as residents gathered for a unique view of the future of their towns’ economy.
Expected to be fully operational in about six weeks, the 1,500-ton cranes mean more than a photo-op, they will allow the port to service bigger cargo ships. According to NC Ports, there’s been a big boost in container volume at the Port of Wilmington over the last 24 months, currently up 31 percent in fiscal year 2018 and year to date volume in January and February is up 58 percent.
“It’s critical that we continue to help the Port of Wilmington grow,” said Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover). “These cranes are only the beginning.”
NCPorts is working to bring more shipping business into Wilmington and Morehead City with a sales pitch to companies around the world saying that N.C. has less bureaucracy, less congestion, quick turnaround, low cost, tons of available storage, and – of course – location, location, location.
“With the high demand on trucking capacity and efficient terminal operations, NC Ports’ model of best in class gate truck turntimes coupled with the fastest ship to shore crane productivity on the East Coast; carriers, BCOs and truckers are taking notice,” said NC Ports Executive Director Paul J. Cozza.
The cranes cost about $33.5 million each and are part of a $200 million investment in the port’s infrastructure. Before 2015, the North Carolina State Ports Authority did not get recurring state funds for infrastructure, but in 2016 and 2017, the N.C. General Assembly started appropriating $35 million in recurring money to expand the port. In 2018 and 2019, that increased to $45 million for NCSPA. The new cranes were bought with those state budget capital funds. Lawmakers took a tour of the port new set up last week.
“The General Assembly made a long-term commitment to growing the Port of Wilmington and it’s amazing to see these incredible cranes in place,” said Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover).
The shipping expansion in the Port City has been underway for several years. In February, Wilmington welcomed its first container of bananas, as part of an agreement to joining the USDA’s Southeast In-Transit Cold Treatment Pilot program. The program will bring weekly banana imports for the next year. Offering one of few on-port cold storage in the country, Wilmington will see more direct imports of produce including blueberries, grapes, apples, pears and citrus passing through.
“This represents major progress in our ability to service North Carolina’s significant grocery sector, several of which are having their headquarters and perishable distribution centers in NC,” said Hans Bean, Vice President Trade Development, NC Ports.
The Wilmington port, as well as the Morehead City port, plus Inland terminals in Charlotte and Greensboro make up a shipping network that means 76,000 jobs across the state and $700 million in annual tax revenue.
“Our goal is to maximize the Port of Wilmington’s economic effect on not just the coast , but all of North Carolina,” said Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “It’s a proud day for the state to see these cranes in place.”