NC loses major Caterpillar plant to Georgia

Posted February 17, 2012

— 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.

North Carolina port Lack of deep port hurt NC's shot at Caterpillar plant

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.


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  • pyro53 Feb 23, 2012

    With the renovations to the Panama Canal to allow "SUPERSHIPS" a shortcut to the east being almost complete it may be too late to save North Carolina. Anyone that thinks we do not need a deep water port is either ignorant or likes to live in the past.
    The money spent would provide increased docking fees and many more jobs to the area. Not to mention the industries like Cat that need these superships to reduce expenses. Don't deepen our port, but do not complain when Cat decides it needs to move ALL of it's manufacturing facilities to Georgia.

  • tobybronstein Feb 22, 2012

    And so it begins. The narrative among government officials is that in order to effectively compete, we must have a deepwater port. Absolute nonsense!

    The site search firm handling the CAT business said they chose Athens, GA (which is 225 miles away from the Port of Savannah) because they gained two Senators in the US Congress and wanted a CHOICE of ports to better negotiate rates. That's just smart business, playing one port off the other.

    Mr. Bradshaw was promising a port that didn't exist in all of his promotional materials contained in his "pitch book" to CAT. Save the Cape shared that book with David Bracken of the N&O. Deliberately misleading a potential company to relocate to Brunswick County by promising a deepwater port, whose status is officially "on hold", undermines the credibility of not only Brunswick County but the entire State of North Carolina. Save the Cape has demanded the resignation of Mr. Bradshaw.

    The media is abetting this narrative by not getting the full sto

  • you are always right Feb 17, 2012

    Read the article folks. Developing the port at Wilmington to be acceptable to manufacturers will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as in at least $200,000,000.00. Not in the budget any time soon.

  • Hubris Feb 17, 2012

    "How come Perdue wasn't making this announcement herself? She seems to always be there when it's good news."

    She was too upset from being called a name to appear in public today.

  • Hubris Feb 17, 2012

    Way to go, Bev! If you would just do your job instead of trying wring more money out of taxpayers for yet another preschool program North Carolina might have got that plant.

  • trob270 Feb 17, 2012

    The NC Legislature needs to understand that there are voters in this part of the state that expect jobs beyond the service and film industries. The legislature should know that we want our children to have gainful employment opportunities with benefits and a sustainable future; not just waiting tables and cleaning toilets for carpetbaggers and tourist.

    Perhaps our governor should hire SCDOT or the Georgia Ports Authority to develop our transportation and manufacturing opportunities!

  • silverwomon Feb 17, 2012

    If we continue to "insource" manufacturing and production operations maybe we won't need those big ships from overseas. Glad Caterpillar decided to move jobs back to the US at any rate.

  • trob270 Feb 17, 2012

    Georgia has Caterpillar. SC has Continental Tire. NC has “Megaport opponents from Southport…pleased Friday after a consultant recommended the state focus on its Wilmington port for future container traffic growth” according to the Star News Friday, February 17, 2012.

    It appears that without a port comparable to other Southern states Southeastern NC cannot compete for meaningful manufacturing jobs. There is limited room to expand the Wilmington port. And if it could be adequately expanded there is 20+ miles of rock that is 40 feet below the Cape Fear river high tide mark that is simply too difficult to remove in order to provide the necessary draft for the container ship used today. More than one jumbo dredge has been demolished trying to deepen the river bed. Just ask American Dredging Company.

    Other parts of NC seem to receive the incentives needed to attach new jobs. Why not our area? And, exactly what did that “special committee” consider in their “cost-benefi

  • IBleedRedandWhite Feb 17, 2012

    The other thing if you were to deepen the channel to Wilmington you would have to solve a few problems. Problem 1 is extra storm surge coming inland due to the deepening. Problem 2 is the salt water creeping further upstream which could harm spawning areas of brackish water species.

    What about Morehead City? Not a huge port but it is literally right off the inlet. What about expanding that port and deepening that area? When we go out it is between 40-50 feet deep at that port.

  • mhazouri Feb 17, 2012

    The company simply used NC to shake down Georgia for a better deal.