Skip to Content

Calling on North Carolina’s Ports

If you are looking for a reminder of how small we are in this great world, visit one of our state’s ports. When you check in at the site of your new-home build, you may not consider the path the lumber took to get to your lot. Firing up the grill, do you consider how the grain to feed that animal reached the farm where it was grown? How about those new tires on your car, ever think about that rubber?

Last week, your NC Chamber team and our volunteer leadership had the opportunity to visit the Port of Morehead City. Brian Clark, executive director of NC Ports, a Cornerstone member of the NC Chamber, and Chip Killmeier, operations manager for the Port of Morehead City, provided us a detailed tour.

While we saw an astounding scale of lumber and grain being unloaded, we also learned about the incredible investments made at our ports – and how they’re impacting North Carolina.

North Carolina is home to two deep-water ports, in Wilmington and Morehead City, and an inland port in Charlotte. Our ports see 1,000 ship calls each year and move more than 4 million tons of general cargo annually. North Carolina Ports boast the highest container truck gate and crane productivity on the U.S. East Coast.

The Port of Morehead City welcomed a new rail-mounted gantry crane in 2019. It is equipped as a multi-purpose crane, used mainly for handling grain and fertilizer but also used for various project cargoes, including parts of wind turbines, trains, and rails. It was the first new crane for the port since 1968 and our team saw it in action unloading grain. Fun fact: one of the dump trucks in this photo could fit in that bucket without being scratched.

The Port of Morehead City handled 1.5 million tons of lumber, rubber, steel, grains and other bulk cargo in the past fiscal year. As it works to accommodate more activity, a new, 75,000-square-foot warehouse is being built on the north side of the port property. Outside storage areas are being created for goods that can tolerate the salty elements, and the waterways around the docks are being worked to reach at least 45 feet of depth to accommodate larger vessels.

An interesting piece of the tour was seeing the privately maintained portion of the port, operated by NC Chamber Cornerstone member Nutrien. One of the largest suppliers of fertilizer in the world, Nutrien has the largest phosphate production in the United States here in North Carolina. Much of the fertilizer products produced at the Nutrien facility in Aurora, N.C. are shipped by barge, an 8-hour trip, to the Port of Morehead City for export.

Nutrien is the oldest user of the port facilities in North Carolina, and they remain an integral piece of their supply chain. This year, Nutrien announced plans to increase potash production to approximately 15 million tons in 2022, an increase of nearly 1 million tons compared to previous expectations for the year. In 2021, Nutrien also increased production by 1 million tons to meet increased demand and tightening of global potash market conditions.

The Port of Wilmington completed berth renovations, more than 2,600 contiguous feet of container berth space, and two new neo-Panamax cranes that, since 2020, allow it to operate two ultra-large container vessels simultaneously. This is creating tremendous opportunities for both port customers and our state’s greater economy.

In Wilmington, a new refrigerated container yard increased on-terminal refrigerated container plugs from 235 to 775. This could house a diverse range of products, including pork, poultry, produce, grocery, as well as life sciences. Beyond the initial expansion, a second phase will increase the yard’s capacity to more than 1,000 plugs.

According to a 2018 study, port activities contribute statewide to $687 million each year in state and local tax revenues and more than 87,700 jobs. North Carolina’s ports offer access to major highways and interstates including I-40, I-95, I-85, I-77, US 74, US 17 & US 70, as well as Class I rail networks via CSX (NC Chamber member) and Norfolk Southern (NC Chamber Cornerstone member). They are a key part of our state’s economic success, and continued investment in this critical infrastructure is an integral piece of maintaining our state’s #1 ranking for business.

Thank you to Brian, Chip, and the team for educating us and showing off all the Port of Morehead City has to offer.