Business

Wilmington ports avoiding many supply chain issues affecting the US, small business still hurting

Posted October 15, 2021 2:23 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2021 3:22 p.m. EDT

Ports around the world are seeing supply chain slowdowns, but that’s not the case in North Carolina. The ports in Wilmington are viewing the crisis elsewhere as an opportunity.

Throughout Friday, a steady flow of ships and trucks moved through the port of Wilmington without delays. The port authority says this could be a pivotal moment in taking business to the next level.

"It’s all being reevaluated, and I think it’s great. It is a great time for us," said Hans Bean, chief commercial officer for North Carolina ports.

This week, global supply chain issues reached a fever pitch, with the port of Los Angeles at one point facing a backup of more than 75 container ships waiting to offload their goods.

The CCO of North Carolina's ports says disruptions to the supply chain in Asia are the cause.

"An exorbitant amount of the U.S. supply chain coming from Asia goes through LA/Long Beach. So in that respect it’s a disproportionate amount of cargo flow that’s going through the west coast," said Bean.

On the other side of the country, there’s no line of ships waiting to get into North Carolina’s major port.

On the east coast, Asian ships typically stop first either in New York or Savannah before making their way to Wilmington.

"Really, we are seeing that in our Asian services here. They’re significantly delayed and off schedule when they get to us," said Bean.

Bean says those delays have caused some headaches for North Carolina’s exporters, but when the ships do get to Wilmington they’re able to offload cargo and get in and out quickly, thanks in part to nearly $250 million in upgrades the port’s received since 2016.

With a wave of companies scrambling to find new ways to get shipments into the U.S. right now, the port of Wilmington has a message: "Why not us?"

"It is a great opportunity for us. We are pushing very hard to say 'hey, there are great options here,’" said Bean. "We’re actually growing. We had our best year ever last year. It’s proof of the investments here and of the market here. But we can do an awful lot more."

Delays around the world hurt small businesses in NC

While Wilmington's port hasn’t seen the same backups as other cities, the ripple effects from those delays are making themselves felt in New Hanover County.

None of the businesses WRAL News spoke with said they got their goods from the city’s port, and some said they haven’t had any delays in getting their products.

But others said they’re having shipping issues like never before.

At Swahili Coast, Caroline Fisher sells clothes and accessories imported from East Africa, but her latest shipment’s been held up for months as she can’t find any openings on container ships coming from the region.

"It was supposed to be done in August, and we’re still waiting on it," said Fisher. "There were times last year and earlier this year when people have come looking for a specific thing, and I’ve had to say, 'I wish more than anything I had that to sell to you, but I don’t have any at all.'"

Fisher says many small businesses needed more success than usual from the coming holiday months to help them bounce back from the pandemic.

Instead, they’re facing down yet another setback that shows no sign of letting up.

"This is going to be a very important holiday season for a lot of small businesses. And the small businesses are going to be the ones bearing the brunt of these supply chain constraints," said Fisher.

Experts estimate the global supply chain could take at least 6 months to return to normal.

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