North Carolina’s ports have long been neglected in terms of public investment, and that ironically has been expensive for the state in many other ways.
Consider the efforts just a few years ago of Tom Bradshaw, former Raleigh mayor and state Transportation secretary, a fellow known for Wall Street business acumen. He tried to get state money to build export terminals at ports for what was then a new business, the milling of wood pellets to be shipped to Europe for fuel. He didn’t get what he wanted, but now pellets are part of a growth plan from the Ports Authority CEO, Paul J. Cozza.
And it appears the ports are getting some long-needed attention from Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP legislative leaders, who plan to put hefty investments into modernizing and improving them. It’s an urgent matter because North Carolina has been losing ground in the competitive business of ports for years. In 2013, North Carolina brought in $44 million in revenues from ports. That same year, South Carolina’s take was $140 million and Virginia’s $352 million.
Why the wake-up? The Panama Canal is going to double its capacity following a 2016 project, and that could cause a tremendous increase in bulk and container cargo traffic all along the East Coast. If North Carolina is going to get a piece of that business, it needs to move ahead with Cozza’s requests for improvements.
They include dredging at Morehead City to ward off shoaling, and new cranes and a deepening of a navigation channel at Wilmington.
Cozza told it like it is to state lawmakers: “We have not been, as a state, investing in our ports over the last years. To be able to obtain this additional business, we’re going to need some investment.”
Consider the additional, common-sense benefit of better ports. If companies are able to move merchandise in an efficient manner, they will be more inclined to expand and set up satellites near deliver sites. Translation: Better ports will undoubtedly mean more jobs.
This is one matter on which Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree, and one the GOP leaders who run the General Assembly should be able to act on quickly. Every delay means business is drifting to South Carolina and Virginia, and it doesn’t need to.
While it’s true that legislators must look to investments over the long term, the strength of the state’s economy following the Great Recession ought to make it possible to have substantial investments immediately to bring the ports to a better competitive position.