MOREHEAD CITY — North Carolina Speaker of the House Tim Moore paid a visit to the State Port of Morehead City Monday to witness the fruits of the General Assembly’s recent investments in ports and learn more about operations at the facility.

Rep. Moore, R-Cleveland, was joined on his tour of the port by Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, members of the N.C. Ports Board of Directors and others. He also recently visited the Port of Wilmington and other sites of significant economic activity throughout North Carolina.

“The state has made record investments here,” Rep. Moore said of the Port of Morehead City during his tour of the facility. “(In this fiscal year budget,) we invested even more money in the infrastructure for this port, as well as the Port of Wilmington, because we know this is a key part of the economic growth and prosperity of North Carolina.”

Rep. Moore noted the state’s ports have experienced rapid growth in recent years, with Morehead City and Wilmington seeing increased tonnage moving through their harbors. N.C. Ports Chief Operating Officer Brian Clark said, in the past five years or so, the Port of Morehead City has doubled the volume of cargo it handles, and Rep. Moore said he was impressed with how the ports have become such an economic driver for North Carolina.

“We were going through some of the numbers of how the port has become profitable, and many years ago, it wasn’t profitable,” he said. “That’s changed, and really a lot of that is because of the amount of capital investment that’s come in to upgrade and modernize the port.”

One of the major capital investments in the Port of Morehead City was the purchase of a new, multi-million-dollar crane, a rail-mounted gantry crane made by German company Liebherr. It was delivered to the port in August and is the first new crane for Morehead City since 1968.

Monday was Rep. Moore’s first time getting to see the new crane in action. Compared to older models, the new crane has a higher capacity for moving goods and can load and unload vessels more efficiently, along with other technical upgrades.

Rep. Moore said Rep. McElraft has been a strong advocate for investing in the port and the economy of the region as a whole, and he credited her, in part, for making the new crane a reality. Funds for the crane were included in the budget last fiscal year.

“I’m so proud that he (Rep. Moore) has come here and had the visit with the ports authority… so that he could understand the expenditures here and how important that appropriation was for this port,” Rep. McElraft said. “It has really increased the business here and it’s a good thing for jobs in all of North Carolina, but especially in Morehead City.”

The state lawmakers also praised the port’s leadership for the focus on growing the facilities. Rep. Moore said North Carolina is increasingly competitive in global markets thanks, in part, to its ability to export and import goods.

“Part of international trade, of course, is the ability to get things somewhere, to be able to receive goods and to send goods out,” he noted. “Well, ports are the way you receive 90 percent of your foreign imports, so just having a port in North Carolina is significant, not only here in Morehead (City) but of course in Wilmington. It’s absolutely critical to invest in that.”

According to Mr. Clark, raw rubber is the No. 1 import by volume at the Port of Morehead City, followed by lumber. On the export side, the port sees a variety of goods, from grains, to raw materials, to airplane parts. Mr. Clark echoed the representatives’ sentiments concerning the importance of the state’s ports for its overall economy.

“It’s important for both Morehead City and Wilmington that we are able to provide these services,” he said. “Ultimately, our objective, our mission, is to support the economy of North Carolina, and by being able to provide these services, we reduce the cost of moving goods in and out of the state.”

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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