NC loses major Caterpillar plant to Georgia
Posted February 17, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Caterpillar plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Georgia, bringing an estimated 1,400 jobs to the state, officials said Friday.
A site in Brunswick County in southeastern North Carolina was a finalist for the plant, which will now be built near Athens, Ga.
Caterpillar is shifting production of small tractors and excavators from Japan to be closer to its customers in North America and Europe. Work at the new plant will include major fabrications, paint and final assembly, company officials said.
The decision marks the second time in recent months that North Carolina has lost out on a major employer.
Continental Tire also looked at Brunswick County for a 1,700-employee plant last fall before deciding to build in South Carolina. Political wrangling over incentives was a factor in that decision, but North Carolina Department of Commerce spokesman Tim Crowley said politics weren't involved in Caterpillar's decision.
"We aggressively worked in a bipartisan effort to put together a robust package to bring this project to North Carolina," Crowley said. "The company made a business decision based on its logistical needs."
One factor in those logistical needs is a deep-water port.
The port at Savannah, Ga., is larger and more developed than the port at Wilmington. The 42-foot-deep channel at Wilmington isn't deep enough to accommodate the ships Caterpillar would need, and the state Ports Authority couldn't guarantee a deeper channel in the near future.
"They were in a rush situation as far as trying to be assured that a 50-foot channel would be provided, and apparently the Charleston (S.C.) and Savannah ports were able to convince them that they could do that," said Jim Bradshaw, director of Brunswick County Economic Development.
Roberto Canales, coordinator of strategic initiatives for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said deepening the Wilmington channel would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would require environmental permits. DOT officials are still studying the issue, and a final report is due in April.
"The state has to make sure that it is actually doing what is best for the people," Canales said. "Environmentally, that's something that will have to be assessed."
Bradshaw said the issue isn't going away, noting that the Panama Canal is being widened and the maximum size of cargo ships will increase in 2014. More industries will use those big ships, he said, and they will need deeper channels to get into North Carolina's ports.
"The cost of transporting overseas is getting higher because of the fuel costs, and to be able to put it on one ship instead of multiple ships saves them money," he said.
Caterpillar recently added new facilities in Winston-Salem and Sanford, and it announced two weeks ago plans to add almost 200 jobs in Clayton.