Competing for shipping

There will soon be a big change to how products move in and out of our country, especially for markets on the east coast. What is this change, and how might it affect North Carolina? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“This is a big deal. The Panama Canal is now being widened, and when this is done in 2014 it will be able to accommodate the biggest shippers in the world — the biggest ships in the world, the big super tankers, the big super container ships. Those ships now if they do go to our east coast, they have to go the long way, or what is more likely is they dock on the west coast at Long Beach, and then those items are shipped by truck across the country.

“So now and starting in 2014, those big ships will be able to go through the Panama Canal and be able to go directly up the east coast of the U.S. and dock somewhere at a port. So the big issue is, is which ports are going to get this enormous increase in business?  And already there is a scramble. Charleston, Savannah, Norfolk, New York are all scrambling to try to get money to expand their port facilities.

“Unfortunately — unfortunately — left out in this is North Carolina. Our two biggest ports Morehead City and Wilmington simply are not in the same league as those other ports. There was a proposal a couple of years ago to perhaps build a new world class port in Southport, North Carolina, that has not moved forward.

“So it looks like at least initially North Carolina is not going to benefit from this. However, the one area that may benefit is Charlotte. Charlotte is still a big transport hub, and so you could conceive of Savannah and Charleston receiving new cargo and sending it up to Charlotte and then being disbursed from Charlotte. So I think Charlotte will benefit from this.”

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