Gov. Roy Cooper traveled to the Port of Wilmington on Tuesday to get updates from port executives and take a tour of the facility's new neo-Panamax cranes.
Although much of the meeting with the governor and port officials was behind closed doors, Cooper said following his public tour of the cranes that he wanted to get a "firsthand look" at the new additions to the port and to see the effect they will have on "creating more jobs" for the state.
Cooper said that there are more than 76,000 “good paying jobs” that are a result of the port.
"Our North Carolina Ports brings so much to our economy ... We're pleased that this port here in Wilmington has the fastest turnaround time on the East Coast, which makes it very competitive with other ports and why they've done so well in the last couple of years," Cooper said.
N.C. Ports cited a boost in business at the Port of Wilmington, reporting March 23 that container volume was up 31 percent in fiscal year 2018.
“The more we can send through our ports, the more we can do for our businesses and the more good-paying jobs that we can create for employees in North Carolina. And those jobs extend all across the state,” Cooper said.
The Port of Wilmington received its two new cranes, constructed by Shanghai Zhenjua Heavy Industry Co.
, in late March. According to Bethany Welch, spokeswoman for N.C. Ports, the neo-Panamax cranes have since been installed and operators trained, and they operated their first vessel June 15.
"It's very exciting to see them set up here, pretty magnificent,” Cooper said of the cranes. “They have another one coming in as well."
That third neo-Panamax crane is under construction, for a total price tag of $33.8 million for all three cranes, port officials have previously said. N.C. Ports' third crane is expected to arrive at the port sometime in March 2019, Welch said.
With the two new cranes set up, the port now has the capability to operate two post-Panamax vessels at the same time, serving vessels upwards of 14,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units). The investment is part of the port’s $200 million ongoing infrastructure improvements.
“Looking forward to even more business at our North Carolina Ports and growing our economy even more. We've got to make sure we have the rail service and the trucking service to complete the port system. But we are feeling good about where we are with our economy and the good work that's going on here,” Cooper said.
But Cooper said he feared that some of the impacts from the Trump Administration’s tariffs on Chinese imports could have a negative impact on the port and state jobs, he said.
“I hope that this trade war that the president has started does not affect the economy of North Carolina. But I am deeply worried that our farmers and jobs here at the port could potentially be in danger if we see an escalation of a trade war across the world,” Cooper said. “I don't want to see North Carolina farmers and North Carolina businesses used as pawns in a trade war. I have expressed my concern; I know a lot of people across the country are alarmed at what is happening.”
Cooper said that the nation needs fair trade across the globe but added, “I am concerned what could happen to the economy now.”
During the governor's visit Tuesday afternoon, however, the Hanover Express, a 8,500-TEU vessel that's a part of the Hapag-Lloyd shipping company fleet, arrived at the Port of Wilmington for the first time. The vessel is part of THE Alliance EC2 Service -- a transpacific service that connects the U.S. East Coast and Asia.
The port operated its first 10,000-TEU vessel as part of that service line May 29, according to Welch.
The Hanover Express has made its way to the East Coast from the ports at Busan in South Korea and Shanghai, Ningbo and Qingdao in China. The EC2 service line activated last May
, along with the 2M Alliance TA2/NEUATL2 container service.