Business heats up at Port of Wilmington Cold Storage

"Everything in the Cold Storage facility is built for expansion - we’re ready."

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The four-story freezer storage room at the Cold Storage facility in the Port of Wilmington. Temperature: -10'F.
The four-story freezer storage room at the Cold Storage facility in the Port of Wilmington. Temperature: -10’F. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON – The Port of Wilmington Cold Storage facility is bigger and colder than anything most people have ever seen or felt. And for businesses small and large, it is starting to heat up.

The Cold Storage facility is a massive, 3 billion cubic foot facility, divided into a refrigerated loading and storage dock, a larger freezer section, and a blast-freezer compartment. But what sets it apart is its location inside the Port of Wilmington, according to Charles “Chuck” McCarthy, president of Cold Storage.

Cold Storage President Charles McCarthy. In addition to being the owner and operator, Mr. McCarthy demonstrated his skill with a fork-lift.
Cold Storage President Charles McCarthy. In addition to being the owner and operator, Mr. McCarthy demonstrated his skill with a fork-lift. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

“We’re on the port property, which makes this one a few locations of its kind in the nation,” McCarthy said. “Just in terms of logistics, it’s huge.”

McCarthy said the location primarily benefits large companies preparing to ship refrigerated and frozen products.

“We’re not the largest facility, or the largest port, but we’re the right combination for a lot of businesses in southeast North Carolina,” he said. “They can drive 50 or 60 miles to Port of Wilmington or six hundred or seven hundred to Savannah or up to Virginia. It’s an easy choice.”

McCarthy added, “transportation is a huge slice of the pizza. Warehousing is really a small one. These are pennies-a-pound businesses, and they’re looking for anyway to save money. If I can give them a competitive rate on warehousing, and cut their transportation costs by half or more, that’s good for them.”

The freezer is nearly four stories tall and at least a hundred feet long. The blast unit can freeze a pallet of pork or chicken to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 24 hours.

McCarthy explained that the Cold Storage also helps medium sized companies handle logistics. Instead of delivering a single shipment to meet a cargo ship, companies can build up a shipment over time, storing frozen products until their inventory matches the cargo availability of an incoming ship.

The Cold Storage facility ships out, but soon should be able to hold incoming shipments, too.

“We’re not doing that yet, but we anticipate it,” McCarthy said. “Everything in the Cold Storage facility is built for expansion – we’re ready. And there are several local producers who are looking to bring in container cargo.”

At one of eleven loading ports, refrigerated trucks can load directly into the cooled loading dock. Temperature: 40'F.
At one of eleven loading ports, refrigerated trucks can load directly into the cooled loading dock. Temperature: 40’F. (Benjamin Schachtman)

McCarthy explained that Cold Storage has been a “good tool” for the Port.

“We’re a private company, but the Port can say, ‘you can offload frozen or refrigerated cargo directly and immediately, with no real lag.’ For companies shipping in, that’s important, because there’s obviously a timing issue,” he said. “Without this facility, local companies have to be here when the ship is, or they have to keep refrigerator containers on site. A refrigerated warehouse is a key part of logistics.”

The refrigerated loading dock. Temperature: 40'F.
The refrigerated loading dock. Temperature: 40’F. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

At the Port Authority of Georgia, in Savannah, for example, cold storage facilities are outside the port. Companies receiving cold shipments must either store refrigerated cargo containers on site or move them across Savannah to off-site warehouses.

The Cold Storage in Wilmington also has an impact on local businesses beyond the shipping industry.

“I’ve spoken with a lot of the local fish companies who are trying to expand their reach and don’t have the warehouse facilities,” McCarthy said, displaying a wallet full of business cards of local fish wholesalers. “I’ve spoken with a baked goods company here in town and their really at the limit of their walk-in capacity.”

McCarthy pointed out that, while Cold Storage can handle over 10,000 pallets, it can also handle orders for much smaller amounts.

“You can have one pallet. We can blast freeze it, we can warehouse it frozen or refrigerated,” he said. “We’re talking with smaller farms. These are local farms, storing and shipping sweet potatoes, blueberries, pork and chicken. Those businesses aren’t going to keep this place running, but it’s important that while we’re serving Maersk, MSC [Mediterranean Shipping Company], and other big producers, local businesses can benefit from our facilities.

“Basically, anybody that wants temperature controlled warehousing can come and do business with us. Large or small,” he said.

Inside the blast-freezer. Temperature: -25'F. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman).
Inside the blast-freezer. Temperature: -25’F. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman).

Inside the facility is the massive blast freezer – one of two planned units. The freezer is nearly four stories tall and at least a hundred feet long. The blast unit can freeze a pallet of pork or chicken to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 24 hours. Even dense cuts of pork can be frozen in less than 40 hours.

Ice on the door to the blast freezer room. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)
Ice on the door to the blast freezer room. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

“The USDA, who have an office here, give producers 72 hours from production to get their product frozen,” McCarthy said. “We freeze things very quickly, so that gives local producers as much time as possible to get here. That’s crucial.”

The number one and three exports from North Carolina are pork and poultry, a fair amount of which travels by frozen-freight to Asia.

This part of the business initially hampered Cold Storage’s development. The facility opened several months ago, but business was hamstrung by the bankruptcy of South Korean shipping company Hanjin.

“A week after we opened, Hanjin closed up shop,” said Cold Storage President Charles McCarthy, “During that week, we did six containers worth, business was good. Then they just closed up. We got no notice. The Port got no notice. It was like one of those entertainers: they dropped the mic, ‘we’re out.’

“It took four to six weeks for Maersk to pick up that line. After that we were really moving,” he said.

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Cold Storage workers arranging pallets in the refrigerated loading dock. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

Cold Storage plans on increasing its current staff of 12 – three office workers and nine warehouse staff – to between 60 and 80.

“Like I said, everything is built for expansion,” McCarthy said. “There’s dozens of lockers, there’s extra space in the break room, the office has room for more desks.”

In addition to expanding its workforce and adding a second blast freezer, the Cold Storage facility also has room for additional refrigeration and freezer compressors.

“We’re ready for anything and everything,” said McCarthy.

 

Below: Video of the facility’s fast-moving doors, and the forklift skill of James Prince, operations manager. “He’s been with me for about ten years,” said McCarthy. “He’s training all these new employees. At some point they’ll have to be as fast as he is.”

 

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