The new cold storage facility at the Port of Wilmington is about to open, and state officials hope all the protein it ingests will serve as a major building block for exports.

More than three years in the making, Port of Wilmington Cold Storage – now set to open on Aug. 15 – represents a bet that refrigeration, blast freezing and logistical support will help convince an increasing number of commodities producers to bypass the ports of Charleston, Norfolk and Savannah and step up their export activity in-state.

USA InvestCo Founder Chuck Schoninger, the Wilmington-based real estate developer who spearheaded the project, believes protein-rich commodities like chicken, pork and turkey, produced in large volume in the Tar Heel State, will put the facility on the map.

“That’s our bread and butter … the low-hanging fruit of the big guys alone can fill us up,” Schoninger said of protein, adding that imports of fruit, vegetables and seafood will help fill up his warehouse. “There are about 20 companies that will naturally use us.”

Early last year, Rose Hill-based House of Raeford Farms, which produces, processes and markets chicken products, was only starting to evaluate the merits of using cold storage at the port.

At the time, House of Raeford spokesman David Witter cited shipping line rates and vessel destinations as “the major factors” in deciding which East Coast ports to use for exports – and by extension, port-based cold storage.

But this month, asked again about warehousing product in Wilmington rather than at another facility, Witter stated, “Our Wallace plant will be using the port’s facility for our
Asian customers.”

Convincing other large producers to use the warehouse could mean big payoffs.

In a 2012 maritime strategy report, state officials said development of new cold storage capacity “would allow North Carolina ports to meet local shippers’ needs for refrigerated cargo exports, thereby realizing, over 30 years, $136 million in shipper savings and related supply chain benefits.”

Creating those benefits is at the heart of the new facility’s mission.

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