Wilmington port's cold storage facility receives inaugural shipment

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WILMINGTON -- Three truckloads of frozen turkey parts rolled into the Port of Wilmington Friday morning, headed for a massive storage facility already chilled to zero degrees. The trucks are the inaugural clients for the port’s new cold storage facility, the first of its kind offered at a port in North Carolina.The pallets of turkey being hauled in the trucks, however, will be short-term tenants at the still-empty facility. Instead of being shelved for an extended stay in the zero-degree storage room like most products, the shipment will quickly be shuffled into an container and put on a ship bound for Asia by days end.

As the trucks arrived Friday, Chuck McCarthy, president and CEO of the 101,000-square-foot facility, looked on outside -- even pulling out his phone to snap a few photos -- as his staff sprung into action for the first time. "It's nice to see," McCarthy said, before directing the truck drivers to the appropriate bay. The facility, the groundbreaking of which was christened by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015, is capable of housing poultry, pork, fish and vegetables from producers across the state. McCarthy said other other storage opportunities could arise from the port's own clients as well.

The industry veteran, who previously ran a similar facility in Sanford, N.C., said cold storage facilities are available throughout the state. But having one available to clients directly at the port will undoubtedly be attractive to North Carolina producers. “Before, a lot of these products would be going to Georgia or Virginia, even though some of them are being produced just 60 miles away,” McCarthy said. “They would be loaded up and driven some 400 miles just to be shipped off. We're trying to change that trend. Having it here, we can save our producers money on transportation.”

In the case of most trucks, workers will remove the pallets of product and store it on the facility's racks for any numbers of days, weeks or months until they are loaded up and sent on their way. At capacity, the facility can hold 450 truckloads of products. But in it's first year, McCarthy is tempering his expectations. "We are expecting to run at about 60 percent capacity in the first year," he said, being purposefully conservative compared to the normal 85-90 percent operating capacity.

As the facility started to hum with staff getting acquainted with the equipment Friday, McCarthy was ready eager to lend a hand to his first shipments -- jumping on a forklift to show everyone how it's done.