Port City Logistics leaders have had their eyes on Wilmington for a few years. The Savannah-based logistics company announced it had plans to expand into Wilmington earlier this week, and CEO Eric Howell said the markets' similarities helped officials make their decision.
“Wilmington reminds us of Savannah 15, 20 years ago, before Savannah kind of popped up, the big wave of growth through the port here," Howell said in an interview Friday. "It's got a lot of similarities to Savannah as far as being a tourist destination, great beaches and great waterways. And if we're gonna continue to expand outside of Savannah, Wilmington makes a lot of sense. It's a place where one, we're going to want to hang out and to get to know the community, and also, we're going to be excited to hire team members that will be part of that community."
The logistics company is planning to build a 150,000-square-foot warehouse on land it will soon acquire from the N.C. State Ports Authority. That $16 million build will take place over the next couple of years, but the company will begin hiring for its new local brokerage division soon.
In fact, Howell said company officials posted job listings on LinkedIn just hours after the governor’s announcement
. “We held off all recruitment efforts,” he said of the process of waiting for the state incentive deal to be made public. “Our team was chomping at the bit.”
Port City Logistics already grabbed office space downtown, Howell said, right off Third Street. A big perk of being downtown – aside from the proximity to its planned transload facility at the port – is all the great local eateries, he said. “Wilmington has got fantastic food,” he said. “We haven't had a bad meal yet."
Ongoing revitalization efforts, including the new Live Oak Bank Pavilion, helped seal the company’s decision to choose downtown for its new brokerage office. “It’s incredible,” he said. “You walk around downtown, it's thriving.”
In the next few months, Howell said he hopes to hire between 25 and 30 employees for its brokerage transportation team in the downtown office, with plans to potentially quickly outgrow the space. “We think it's gonna be a great place to hire from,” he said. “The talent pool is extremely strong.”
Port City Logistics employs about 450 people companywide, according to Howell. It will hire 75 as part of its Wilmington expansion, which Howell said the company will likely exceed. “Time will tell based on how much volume ramps up,” he said. “We’re going to run as many containers and trucks out of that facility as possible.”
Positive relationships with Wilmington Business Development and the N.C. State Ports Authority helped further solidify the deal, according to Howell.
Between local and state incentives, Port City Logistics is eligible for up to $337,000, provided certain job-hiring goals are met. Howell said logistics brokers end up earning over $65,000 and $70,000 within their first two years on the job. “We’ve got team members making six figures pretty quickly,” he said.
About one-third of the incentives the company was awarded will cover job training initiatives. Howell said his team members have been in contact with representatives from Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina Wilmington to devise a curriculum to help train individuals before joining the brokerage transportation team. In this sales-oriented role, brokers have plenty of contact with third-party truck carriers lining up freight from point A to B.
Training programs for these roles and later, warehouse-related positions, will be instituted in the next one to two years, Howell guessed.
Construction on the transload warehouse will take time, but once open, Howell said it’ll likely meet a need that’s not currently being met in the area. The warehouse will help streamline shipments at the Port of Wilmington, with the ability to efficiently store goods nearby before trucks ship them to their final destinations. The company is in the process of acquiring 42.2 acres owned by the N.C. State Ports Authority at 187 Raleigh Street for $2.15 million, according to state records.
“Our facility will be set up to handle that high velocity,” Howell said. “And I would say that there's there's not a product offering like that in the market today. Other bigger markets – Norfolk, Savanna, L.A.-Long Beach, New York, New Jersey – they have these types of facilities, but it's underserved in Wilmington today.”
Much like the Savannah market, where about 80% of Port City Logistics’ handled goods are imported, Howell said he also anticipates leaning toward imports in Wilmington. Goods the company anticipates catering to include retail products, palletized foods, hand-stacked food items, furniture and more. “We pretty much run the gamut,” Howell said. “We have a highly diversified customer base.”
With 12 warehouses in Savannah and one in Greenville and Greer, South Carolina, Wilmington marks Port City Logitsics’ third market, Howell said. The company plans to continue expanding and is eyeing two additional markets.
Disruptions to global supply chain markets triggered by the pandemic, which have prompted carriers to consider less congested ports on the East Coast. Port City Logistics aims to capitalize on these changes through the Wilmington port, which is making adjustments to attempt to capture more of the shifting market share.
Howell quotes Wayne Gretzky: “‘Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.’ To us, Wilmington has a ton of potential.
“We think Wilmington is set up for great long-term growth and opportunity.”