As separate entities, the state-owned ports, railroad and air-cargo complex handle billions of dollars worth of goods each year and provide valuable transportation links for local, interstate and international commerce. But few would argue they have no room for improvement. The Wilmington-based N.C. State Ports Authority lost $5.9 million in its latest fiscal year. The North Carolina Railroad Co., based in Raleigh, is studying the possibility of increasing passenger service, and the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston sputtered for more than a decade before landing its first major tenant.
Some state lawmakers want to know what would happen if they were combined into a single entity. One of them thinks he knows the answer. “There’s more strength than each one independent,” says Rep. Danny McComas, the Wilmington Republican who championed legislation authorizing a study of the idea. The owner of MCO Transport Inc., a Wilmington-based trucking company, McComas is a member of the Governor’s Logistics Task Force, which he says will have the study done by the next legislative session. He suspects it will show a combined system to be more efficient. A shipment could arrive at the port, be shipped by rail to the TransPark and then flown out to the West Coast in a matter of hours, he says.
The possibilities intrigue Gene Conti, TransPark chairman and state secretary of transportation, who says a combined entity could reduce administrative costs, coordinate marketing and maximize capital investments. Conti, a federal transportation official during the Clinton administration, was secretary of labor from 1995 to 1998 in Maryland, where the Department of Transportation oversees aviation, ports and some rail lines. A similar model might work well here, he says. “It would have to be connected to another agency in state government. In my mind, the DOT would be the most logical place.”
The other principals are more cautious about the idea. Shannon Moody, a spokeswoman for the Ports Authority, says it would be “supportive of any studies or efforts to improve logistics within North Carolina.” Scott Saylor is president of the North Carolina Railroad, which connects to the port in Morehead City and will link to the TransPark after a $20 million construction project is finished in 2012. It does not own the rail lines into the port in Wilmington. He questions the feasibility of the groups coming together, especially since the North Carolina Railroad is a private company, though the state owns its common stock. Still, he’s open to ideas about improving infrastructure for economic development. “I think all parties would like to know if there would be benefits and, if so, what those are.”NEW BERN — Brunswick, a Lake Forest, Ill.-based boat builder, plans to add 350 jobs at its yacht factory within five years as it consolidates production of its Hatteras and Cabo brands. That will increase employment to about 625. It closed a plant in Navassa two years ago because of weak demand.