Inland port doing swell, officials say

Russell Held, director of economic development for the Port of Virginia, speaks during a news conference on the health of the port held Thursday in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — The Virginia Inland Port is driving commerce, employment and setting record numbers of shipments, officials with the Port of Virginia said Thursday afternoon.

Port officials met with leaders of Warren County and Front Royal to share the progress of the port, its economic impact and future expansions for the state’s maritime ports at an informal information session.

With 39 companies located near the Virginia Inland Port, such as Rubbermaid and Home Depot, the port has created 8,000 jobs, 8 million square feet of buildings and generated $748 million in investments, said Russell Held, economic development director for the Port of Virginia.

Held said the port has not only impacted the Northern Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, but also eastern West Virginia and Maryland, bringing in companies and distribution warehouses to those areas.

“It’s just not the companies in our state,” Held said. “I think if we want to look at the economic impact of this port, we need to look at the broader picture … people tend to shy away from economic impacts that include other states.”

Peter Trocchiano, vice president of multi-use terminal operations with the Virginia Inland Port, gives a presentation during a news conference Thursday on the health of the port. Rich Cooley/Daily

Held added, “We are a regional facility, the port is a regional facility.”

The 161 acre facility was established in 1989 and receives imports from the ports in Hampton Roads and Norfolk via CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads, said Peter Trocchiano, vice president of multi-use terminal operations.

“There are a lot of advantages to this port,” Trocchiano said. “We have five-day-a-week rail service, it’s located very nicely here within one mile of I-66 and five miles from I-81 … we have 24/7 container availability and opportunity for multiple truck turn around a day.”

Trocchiano said the statewide port system has had 11 record-breaking months in the past 19 months and the system is “enjoying growth.”

“Our shipping volume is up 7.6 percent over 2013,” Trocchiano said. “We are the third largest East Coast port in terms of growth, at 12.9 percent growth … we are only behind New York and Savannah.”

A “renewed focus on fiscal responsibility” is one of the main drivers for the port’s growth in shipment handling, Held said.

“We have money left over at the end of the day to put back into our facilities,” Held said. “We’re six months through our fiscal year with a several million dollar turn around from where we were last year at this time, we have money to build more efficient terminals, to get better equipment and to keep moving freight.”

Held said when the Inland Port was established, “no one had the vision of what this could be.”

“The reason this port came here is because of the port of Baltimore,” Held said. “At that time they had four times the amount of business as the Port of Virginia, so this was put here to short stop truck traffic moving between Baltimore and the Ohio Valley and Western Pennsylvania.”

Held continued, “What happened is, ships started coming to Hampton and Norfolk to drop off containers and we shipped it up here, so that business gravitated this way and this place became an economic powerhouse for the Northern Shenandoah Valley.”

Labor unrest on the West Coast drove a lot of businesses to start distributing in the area, Held said.

“Fourteen years ago, there was a lockout for 10 days on the West Coast, so a lot of companies who are in there are, almost all came in at that time,” Held said. “The companies importing from Asia decided to start taking freight through the Panama Canal to the East Coast.”

With the Suez and Panama canals being expanded to accommodate larger freighters and continual labor unrest on the West Coast, Held said the Virginia port system is “looking at sitting on a new wave of commercial activity.”

“I don’t think its coming with $1 million or $2 million facilities anymore, but with smaller and more agile facilities from third party logistic providers, like Interchange,” Held said. “There’s canal fever, bigger ships and still labor issues on the West Coast.”

Held said the area is also seeing more foreign investment because of a stable business environment and anticipated population increases, which would drive companies to set up shop in Virginia for the labor and consumer market. He said that might lead to doubling the size of the port of Hampton.

Warren County Supervisor Dan Murray said while he is concerned about keeping the county rural, he is happy with how the Inland Port has minimized its impact on the area.

“I’m the supervisor for the district here and I have the least amount of complaints about the Inland Port’s operations. There’s a lot of complaints about others, but not here,” Murray said. “We appreciate that.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com