Port sparks growth across Virginia

Published 9:55 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

The Port of Virginia in recent years has become a premier gateway for cargo carriers thanks to strategic planning and investments, Virginia Port Authority Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director John Reinhart said Wednesday during the annual State of the Port address.

Held by the Hampton Roads Global Commerce Club at Hilton Norfolk The Main, the event detailed the successes of the Port in the past fiscal year while outlining the steps needed to sustain that momentum.

“We’ve made some commitments and promises to you that we would stabilize the port, that we would start planning to build the port, and that we would reinvent the port,” Reinhart said. “I’ve got to tell you, with what we show you today, it’s only getting better.”

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Forty businesses have announced plans to locate or expand their facilities in Virginia so far this fiscal year. Approximately $1.3 billion has been invested across the commonwealth, with more than 4,000 jobs created to support the 2.4 million square feet of facility space for port users.

“We’re sparking growth all across Virginia,” Reinhart said.

Welspun USA Inc., a company that manufactures linens and towels for hospitality and retail clients across the country, is moving into Suffolk for just that reason.

The company will invest $1 million, create 16 jobs and occupy two-thirds of Panattoni Development’s 300,000-square-foot warehouse in the Virginia Regional Commerce Park.

Panattoni also acquired 62 acres across from Richmond Marine Terminal to develop a 1-million-square-foot distribution center. The “Virginia I-95 distribution” project will proceed in two phases, with the first phase expected to be completed late summer.

“These are people that are starting to make investments in Virginia because of the efforts of the port,” Reinhart said. “They’re partnering with us to grow the job base and the economy.”

The port has moved 1.21 million containers so far this fiscal year, a 4.6-percent increase compared to the same date for fiscal year 2017. Careful planning has kept growth at the port steady, from 2.39 million twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo, or TEUs, in fiscal year 2014, to 2.93 million projected for this fiscal year.

“If you don’t think we’ve been nimble in finding the right equipment and right processes, you’re kidding yourself,” Reinhart said.

The port’s deep channels, network of terminals and double-stack rail access have made it an ideal stop for the largest ships calling on the East Coast — ships like the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt in August, the largest container ship to call on the East Coast at 14,400 TEUs.

Reinhart said ports need to be ready for bigger ships to draw cargo away from West Coast ports and closer to their final destination on the East Coast.

“The East Coast needs to have a network of ports that can all handle the largest ships, so that we can divert some of the cargo from the West Coast, bring it to the East Coast and bring it closer to the population,” he said.

Clusters of inland port users have benefited from Virginia’s rail operations, as 35 percent of cargo so far this year has been moved by rail, more than any other East Coast port, according to Reinhart.

“Your port is the largest rail port on the East Coast. By percentage and by volume, we compete with everybody,” he said.

The plan is to stay competitive through expansions and innovation. A third mandatory hour will be added to the truck reservation system at Norfolk International Terminals this Thursday, according to a Tuesday press release, and the first eight of 16 new diesel-electric shuttle trucks have been delivered to help support expanded cargo operations at Virginia International Gateway.

The first of 13 new container stacks will go into service at VIG by the end of April, and the second new container stack is scheduled for mid-May.

Crews are expected to finish an extension of the VIG wharf this October to accommodate four new ship-to-shore container cranes, double the size of the rail operation and add new lanes to the truck gate.

When expansion of the VIG is complete in 2019 and NIT in 2020, capacity at the Port of Virginia will have increased by 1 million container units.

“This is critical,” Reinhart said. “Virginia will be the deepest, widest, safest port on these shores. We will be a magnet for freight, and we will be a magnet for jobs. We will be the port of choice and a safe harbor for all.”