From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
I wanted to update readers on some efforts the department has been involved in to improve our ports and increase resources at the ports that I believe will be a great benefit to our state and our farmers.
In early February, fellow members of the Council of State and I , approved a lease that gives the go-ahead for a public-private partnership seeking to build a state-of-the-art cold storage facility at the Port of Wilmington.
The partnership between the State Ports authority and USA Investco will include an initial investment of $13 million to build a 75,000-square-foot facility for near-vessel storage of fruits, vegetables, meat and other agricultural products. Long range, this facility could expand to 300,000 square feet.
Some of you may be wondering why I have such an interest in the ports, but you don't have to look any further than ag exports. North Carolina exports more than $3 billion worth of agricultural products each year, and I hope we will see that number grow in the future through the efforts of future trade missions, our trade office and these improved port facilities.
Already this year, two businesses have scored their first sales to China. Old North State Winery of Mount Airy and Carolina Native Nursery of Burnsville shipped wine and nursery products, respectively. Hopefully, they represent many more companies to follow. When we opened the trade office in China in 2011, one of the things I kept hearing from farmers and commodity groups alike was how much we needed to improve our ports so these businesses did not have to transport grain or other commodities to ports in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia to ship overseas.
At a time when North Carolina, like most states, was trying to keep jobs, North Carolina was losing some agricultural port business to other states. In addition, farmers and co-ops exporting products were paying more to transport their commodities to other states for overseas shipments, eating into their profits.
At that time, we started looking more closely at ports in the state and began advocating for investment in them, making the case that we were losing opportunities at our own ports by not making some improvements. We were joined in these efforts by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation.
A few more pieces of the financial puzzle must come together before work can begin on the cold-storage project. The deal is contingent on state and local incentives, but I am optimistic about the final results.
Jeff Miles, acting executive director of the Ports Authority, noted that having "a modern, industrial cold-chain distribution center located at one of our state's ports provides a strategic competitive advantage over competing neighboring ports."
I believe our whole state wins when North Carolina's agricultural interests make our state's ports their ports of choice for ship-ping business.
I have said many times, and will continue to say, that if we are to rebuild our economy, we need to recognize our strengths and build on these strengths. Agriculture is one of our state's strengths, and this industry can be a catalyst for economic growth.