COVID Highlights Cold Chain Needs

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Dec 4, 2020
Chuck McCarthy, president and CEO of the Port of Wilmington Cold Storage, stands among goods stored inside the facility. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
Pharmaceuticals and agriculture are heavy players in driving some of the state’s cold chain business, said panelists during N.C. Ports’ virtual Cold Chain Summit last month.
And more opportunities may come with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with grocers and vaccine distribution.
The industry leaders spoke on a range of topics and possibilities for growing business and bringing more options for moving and storing goods in cold transporta­tion, warehous­es, logistics and at the Port of Wilmington.
N.C. Ports has grown its capa­bilities in this segment in recent years. A developer has added the 101,000-
square-foot, privately owned Port of Wilmington Cold Storage facility. And then this year, in the midst of the pandem­ic, work wrapped on the new $14 million refrigerated container yard at the Port of Wilmington.
That move has positioned N.C. Ports to become an even bigger play­er in the global cold chain network, officials said.
Refrigerated space from either an agricultural perspective or a phar­maceutical perspective is similar, and businesses in those segments are find­ing North Carolina attractive, said Gary Salamido, president and CEO of the N.C. Chamber.
“In the agricultural food pro­cessing business, we are feeding the world through a lot of the agricul­tural products here; it’s our No. 1 industry. In manufacturing, there’s over 10,000 manufacturers in North Carolina, and it’s been our backbone for a long time and it continues to be our backbone,” Salamido said.
“And when we look at the health care sector, in particular the pharma sector … the way that North Car­olina [and] the ports have grown, innovated and developed, and having a unique cold storage facility located where it is, and having a single build­ing, having an interchange point for pharmaceuticals, particularly now that our vaccines are going to require significant cold storage, people are noticing,” he said.
There are several coronavirus vacine candidates working toward approvals and distribution. When they are manufactured for distri­bution, global logistics firms and transporters will need to be ready to activate a network of cold chain opportunities to move and store the billions of highly-perishable vaccine that will be needed around the world, panelists said.
Overall, growing that cold net­work is important, through options such as additional cold storage ware­houses and distribution centers.
The value of the system makes sense for bringing in companies on the food side, especially as prepack­aged meals and imported food grows as a subsector, said Joe Melvin, busi­ness development director at North Carolina’s Southeast, an 18-county regional economic development organization.
The grocery sector is a big growth area for N.C. Ports. An area of opportunity in that sector N.C. Ports is targeting is its location to about a dozen large refrigerated grocery distribution centers within a half-day truck drive of the port, centers for big name grocers such as Walmart, Food Lion and Publix, officials said.
William Duggan, North Ameri­can cold chain adviser for Eskesen Advisory, said, “North Carolina has made a dedication to focus on this segment of the business,” he said. “I think North Carolina is clearly on the right track. The key is to con­tinue to attract the carriers, get the carriers in there and make that, both on import and export part, make it accessible to the world.”
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