As one of his many goals as the next leader of the N.C. State Ports Authority, Brian Clark aims to support the ports’ role in economic development efforts across the region and state.
Clark will become the new executive director of the authority, also known as N.C. Ports, come Jan. 1, following the retirement of Paul Cozza. Cozza has served as executive director since 2014.
Clark joined N.C. Ports in 2017 and has more than two decades of experience in the maritime industry.
Currently the ports’ chief operating officer, Clark is preparing between now and January to take on the leadership role by talking with key stakeholders, making plans and keeping an eye on the global trade and shipping trends that are fluctuating because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Clark’s leadership will come in the middle of a challenging fiscal year.
“As we enter into what is a very difficult time with this new fiscal year, it’s setting both short- and long-term strategies; the impact of the global pandemic and the impact to cargo volumes is still an unknown,” Clark said. “So we’re approaching this fiscal year in a bit of a conservative manner until we see the development of cargo volumes and revenues associated with that.”
On top of managing and preparing for challenges that come with the pandemic, Clark continues to help oversee investments at the Port of Wilmington and the Port of Morehead City that are part of the ports’ more than $221 million capital improvement plan.
The enhanced capabilities from those investments bring more to the table during economic development discussions, he said.
“From a ports perspective, one of my goals is to take a more active role to work very closely with the economic development groups and ensure that the value we can provide as N.C. Ports is communicated early and often as prospective clients, customers or investors are investigating opportunities,” Clark said.
That goes for economic activities in the Wilmington area as well, he said.
“Over the last several years, we’ve seen a growing level of interest for development in the area. We’ve seen the development of warehouse facilities to support cargo volumes. We’ve seen new industries move into the area,” Clark said.
“The investments we are making in the ports, we believe play a very important role in those overall projects.”
When improvements to the Port of Wilmington’s container cargo facilities are complete, Clark plans to turn focus on general cargo facilities at Wilmington and Morehead City.
In addition, he plans to focus on the ports’ inland network, both rail and highways, he said.
A part of that plan lies in the completion of the Carolina Connector (CCX), a intermodal hub under development by Florida-based CSX Transportation in Rocky Mount.
“The CCX in Rocky Mount will be coming online next year. And as we look at growing our volumes, we have a strong focus on growing intermodal volumes that will support the development of the Rocky Mount facility,” Clark said. “We’re working with the state and with CSX to identify the opportunities … we certainly see value, and we are looking forward to that facility opening.”
Investments were made in the Charlotte Inland Port last year to increase capacity there, he said. And N.C. Ports is working to further develop its client base for the Queen City Express, an intermodal rail service between Charlotte and Wilmington.
“We have seen tremendous growth of those buy-ins since the service went live in 2017,” Clark said.
“And we continue to work with customers to identify cargos that could benefit from that rail operation.”
Another key component to further the ports’ influence on economic development locally is the development of facilities around the Port of Wilmington.
“We continue to work with potential interested customers for development of near-port warehouse facilities. We have property located near the Port of Wilmington that we are hopeful will lead to some development in the near future,” Clark said.
As part of his leadership, Clark said he is looking forward to growing the team at N.C. Ports.
“I think we have done a great job as an organization building the N.C. Ports name throughout the industry. We are certainly recognized as a strong performer when it comes to port services,” Clark said. “And my goal is to continue to develop that and build volumes and build opportunities for employment both here and at our facility in Morehead City.”
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