Region Positioned Well for Logistics Activity, Panel Concludes

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Exports are playing an increasingly key role in the U.S. economy, and that spells good news as North Carolina’s Southeast Region continues to invest in its transportation networks and logistics workforce. That was among the conclusions of a three-member panel speaking at UNC Wilmington’s Annual Economic Outlook Conference in October. The discussion, which took place under the theme of “Trading Places: East Meets West,” was moderated by Walter Kemmsies, an economist with New York City-based Moffatt & Nichols.

 “North Carolina will continue to lead,” said Rep. Danny McComas of Wilmington. Though port complexes in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia may be larger, there are still lucrative opportunities for the Port of Wilmington to play “a niche-oriented role” in facilitating global trade, said Rep. McComas, who also is president of MCO Transport, an East Coast logistics provider. New technologies are revolutionizing the logistics industry, he said, spurring higher expectations on shippers and transportation providers. “Things such as GPS, wireless tracking and satellite-based technologies now enable customers to pinpoint their freight,” he explained. “Time is money, and if you can’t relate to that you’re not going to be able to keep up.”

Specialized training and educational programs are needed to help position the Southeast Region for success in global logistics, said NCSE President Steve Yost, who participated on the panel. Mr. Yost noted some five percent of the region’s workforce – about 25,000 people – are involved in the logistics industry. Recent and ongoing transportation improvements are fostering additional job-growth and business development across the region’s 11 counties. “It’s something we can really build on,” Mr. Yost said. In 2010, about 38 percent of the site selection projects in the Southeast Commission’s portfolio required access to a deepwater port. “That’s about twice what it was a decade ago,” he added.

Since the current recession began in 2008, many U.S. businesses have relied on foreign buyers to stay afloat, according to Gary Winstead, CEO of LoadMatch Logistics, a Wilmington-based facilitator of container shipping. Much of this rise has been related to a weakening U.S. dollar, which makes American-made goods more affordable abroad. The widening of the Panama Canal will bring new opportunities to East Coast ports, he said. “We need to support our ports, both from the standpoint of a region and a state,” according to Mr. Winstead.