WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – When the Panama Canal opened nearly a century ago, it revolutionized global trade, making shipping quicker and cheaper.
Now, the canal is being expanded to accommodate larger ships. But those container vessels won't be able to dock at the Port of Wilmington because the Cape Fear River isn't deep enough.
The mega port that would have been located in Southport could have accommodated the ships. With plans for the new port off the table, Brunswick County Economic Development Director Jim Bradshaw said it's hard to know how the Port of Wilmington's inability to dock the larger ships will impact his efforts to recruit businesses.
"The site-selection consultants that we work with throughout the country, we meet with them on a regular basis, and they understand that Wilmington's port will probably never have a 50-foot channel to accommodate the larger ships," Bradshaw said. "So, we'll never really know whether those larger industries even considered our area."
Despite the future limitations of the port, several industries have recently located in the area, citing the port as a reason.
R.C. Creations, a seafood processor that imports from Chile, Norway and Denmark and exports to South America and Asia, recently announced it would construct a facility in the Pender Commerce Park, off Highway 421, just north of the New Hanover County line.
"We believe that we are going to help the Port of Wilmington. We believe the port will help us," said Richard Nordt, the company's vice president of manufacturing. "We will be utilizing carriers that can get into the Port of Wilmington here, because in the long run, it's an economic decision more than anything."
When it comes to those economic decisions, Jimmy Yokeley, director of community economic development at the port, contends Wilmington is competitive. In the vast majority of cases, it's cheaper and faster for North Carolina firms to truck products to Wilmington than to other East Coast ports including Charleston, Norfolk and Savannah, according to Yokeley.
"We're going to let our natural benefits continue to play out. We're going to promote those benefits more strongly going forward," he said.
Yokeley said Norfolk is the only port that will be able to initially accommodate larger ships when the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2015.
"It's a big question mark as to what the impact is really going to be after 2015," he said. "I don't think we're going to know the complete picture of that until probably much later in this decade."
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