Port of Wilmington tops the list for most productive port in North America

Port of Wilmington tops the list for most productive port in North America
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:22 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Out of all ports in North America, the Port of Wilmington ranked number one in productivity based on a report of customer data.

It reflects how quickly the containers on trucks, trains, and ships get in and out.

“As we report our volume, it’s based on the total number of containers. Sometimes you’ll hear TEUs or 20-foot equivalency units used. We’re handling about 330,000 TEUs on an annual basis,” Brian Clark, executive director for the North Carolina Ports Authority, said. “Right now, we have two services that are coming from Asia on a weekly basis. We have two that are coming from Europe. And then we have three weekly that are coming from Central America. So, we’re balanced between the three major markets. And that’s served us well, as you know, over the last couple of years as well, because when certain markets are down, we’re seeing increases in other markets. We’re not all in on one of the trade lanes and dealing with those ups and downs.”

Clark says the turnaround time for truckers to drop off an empty container and haul off a full one at the Wilmington port is about 30 minutes. Other ports, he says, could take hours.

“You know, time is money and if they’re going to be delayed elsewhere, and they can perform multiple moves here on a daily basis and then it makes sense for them to be here.”

But what’s in all of those containers coming and going from the port?

“There’s a great mix of cargo and one of the benefits of our port or market is we are balanced. So, we have an equal number of loaded imports coming in versus loaded exports going out,” Clark said. “We can see anything from apparel and textiles, home goods, consumer goods. We handle a fair bit of parts and components for the auto industry that come into the port. And then on the export side, we handle a lot of forest products, agricultural grains and feeds. We’re obviously growing and we’re focusing on growing in the in the cold sector. So, we see import perishables, we see a lot of pork and poultry and sweet potatoes outbound, all using refrigerated containers.”

That’s where the Port of Wilmington is expanding — with refrigerated containers to handle more of those perishable items.

“Our second phase of our refrigerated container yard is nearing completion; we received a federal raise grant to build out an intermodal yard. So, we’re actually loading and unload the trains and improve that that’ll kick off next year. So, there’s a lot of projects that have been completed and are in the planning stages that’ll really improve the overall experience of doing business here,” Clark said.

And Clark says in turn this can produce a lower cost for some items in stores.

“We really focus on the cost aspect of it today. Most refrigerated import perishables are moving through Philadelphia and Delaware or South Florida. So, if they’re going to a distribution center in North Carolina, they’re moving by truck. So our value proposition, if you will, is move the cargo through here. It’s much lower inland cost. You’ll hear first and last mile as an example. Therefore, it should be a lower cost eventually to a consumer.”

Clark says they will continue working to expand operations at the Port of Wilmington as they’re seeing increased success.

“We’ve seen a tremendous growth in the intermodal volume as well. We’re out about 65% on intermodal rail year over year, so that’s an opportunity for cargo to move out of here by train versus truck. And we’re seeing most of that growth in the Charlotte market. Because a shipper can then feed that cargo into western North Carolina, further west into Tennessee,” Clark said. “Our five-year strategic plan has us growing by about 50% over the next number of years. But that’s all on our commercial efforts, how we attract new services, how we, how we provide benefits to someone’s supply chain as to why they should use utilize the Port of Wilmington versus some other port, there’s a significant amount of buying that’s moving in and out of the state of North Carolina, and only a percentage of it is using the Port of Wilmington today.”