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North Carolina port touts its furniture traffic

Cargo Ship

Above: Furniture is a major product category for the Port of Wilmington in North Carolina.

The Port of Wilmington, N.C., calls itself the Port of Home Furnishings when addressing one of the Southeast’s leading industries. North Carolina Ports made the most of that opportunity as the premier sponsor for the Logistics Conference held by the American Home Furnishings Alliance Specialized Furniture Carriers June 17-19 in Wilmington.

“The Port of Wilmington is the heart of the furniture industry evolution in North Carolina, whose High Point region has long been known as the furniture capital of the world,” the NC Ports website says. “As the tides shift with changes in importing and exporting, one thing remains the same: The Port of Wilmington continues to be at the center of the furniture shipping universe.”

“If we get furniture right, we get a lot of things right,” Hans Bean, senior vice president of business development for NC Ports, said in an address to the conference.

$200 million in capital improvements

Furniture is a major product category handled at the Port of Wilmington, located on the Cape Fear River 26 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Traditionally overshadowed by larger ports in Norfolk to the north and Charleston to the south, Wilmington is closing the gap as it implements a $200 million capital-improvement plan, Bean said.

It has enlarged its turning basin and is expanding berths to handle more and much larger vessels. It is working on raising its “air draft,” by clearing overhead space on the river, Bean said. Meanwhile, channel depth has been increased to 42 feet. In April, the port welcomed its largest cargo ship to date, the 12,000 TEU Kota Pekarang. A TEU, or twenty-foot equivalent unit, approximates the volume of a cargo container. The Singapore-flagged Kota Pekarang is 330 meters, or 1,082 feet, in length and 48 meters, or 157 feet, across the beam.

Hans Bean

The port can handle vessels three times as large as it could just two years ago, Bean said, and further enhancements are planned.

“We want to make sure we have a big enough runway for the vessels that are coming and enough room for them within the basin,” Bean said.

Yet size isn’t the primary goal.

“We’re building for speed and scale,” Bean said. “We’re not going to be the biggest, we know that, but we need to be the best.”

Trucks get in and out in minutes, not hours

That means allowing fast loading and unloading of ships, thanks to massive Post-Panamax and Neo-Panamax cranes. Truckers can get in and out of the port in minutes, not hours as at some ports, thanks to efficient traffic flow and a minimum of congestion. The port offers plenty of on-site storage, much of it refrigerated, dockside rail connections and inland proximity to major markets.

It began rail service in 2017 to Charlotte on a line called the Queen City Express. It owns a terminal in the Carolinas’ largest city, where Interstates 77 and 85 intersect. That service will expand beginning July 1, Bean said. It “shortens first- and last-mile truck transits,” he added.

George Cartledge III of HFA member Grand Home Furnishings boards a bus for a tour of the Port of Wilmington.

Conference attendees had a chance to see for themselves, touring the port by bus. They viewed impressive scenes of mechanized activity as cranes lifted loads from a large cargo ship and huge forklifts stacked containers or placed them on trailers.

A port police officer checks visitors’ identification before they can enter the port.

The visitors, who, for security reasons, had to show identification to a port police officer before entering the facility, weren’t allowed to leave the bus. That was for their own safety. As fast as heavy objects move around the port, someone could get hurt. A lot of that traffic is furniture on its way to retailers in North Carolina and beyond.

Doug Clark is content manager, government relations liaison and author of the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association.

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