‘Top Banana’ in port’s third year under Gulftainer unit
Wilmington, Delaware, not only has just delivered the nation’s “Top Banana” to the White House in the person of Joe Biden, but it is continuing to lead the way as the No. 1 U.S. gateway for banana imports and more as the Port of Wilmington enters its third year of operation under a division of United Arab Emirates-based Gulftainer.
“We’ve got our feet underneath us, and we’re starting to run, and it’s starting to really work for us,” said Eric Casey, chief executive officer of GT USA Wilmington LLC, which in late 2018 inked a 50-year concession agreement with the State of Delaware.
Citing investments to date of $118 million, Casey told AJOT, “All of it has already shown benefits. Our revenues increased by 50 percent year-over-year, including with the pandemic. That was a very good show of support for our infrastructure development.”
Investments thus far have brought berth and warehouse enhancements and, last summer, five all-electric Konecranes rubber-tired gantries to the port’s longtime site at the confluence of the Delaware and Christiana rivers. The RTGs are slated to enter service by the end of March, serving container stacks that already are being built, currently being serviced by reachstackers.
In addition to significantly improving the Port of Wilmington’s longstanding 308-acre installation, GT USA is advancing development of a new terminal on a 112-acre site that previously was home to the Chemours/DuPont titanium dioxide manufacturing plant at Edgemoor.
Casey said the permitting process for the Edgemoor site is moving toward early 2022 completion, after which building can commence, with an eye to start operations there by the end of 2025.
“It is moving along on schedule,” Casey said of the Edgemoor development. “It is actually slightly ahead of schedule in terms of where we thought we would be in the permitting process.”
Meanwhile, cargo volumes at the existing Port of Wilmington location have remained constant, including for bananas, with Chiquita and Dole leading the way,
“Bananas are actually relatively COVID-proof,” Casey remarked.
In addition, he said, automobile business, which took a hit earlier last year, saw strong resurgence in November and December.
“The thing that was really interesting is how well our labor unions and our colleagues and partners performed during COVID,” Casey commented, saying the port’s workforce had seen only 11 confirmed cases of the virus since last February. “We didn’t miss a beat here. We were open every day and continued to work straight through.”
Part of the success may be attributable to the port employing significant health and safety measures even prior to the pandemic and formal U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention recommendations.
“Luckily,” Casey said, “our port here at Wilmington, with its very diverse portfolio, had already a lot of the CDC-recommended guidelines for safety in place due to our handling of produce.
“We here at GT USA and the Port of Wilmington actually utilized the COVID opportunity as a position of strength,” he continued. “We’re coming at this and accelerating out of the turn. You’re going to see some new branding coming from us and you’re going to see continued growth in a very positive and proactive position in the market.
“Our team performed very, very well, and we have not lost any momentum that some of our colleagues on the East Coast have shown,” Casey said. “Where they had some fits and starts, we continued to power through, and we’re going to continue that positive trajectory into 2021 and ramping right up through Edgemoor.
“All of this,” he said, “would not be possible without the absolute cooperation of our labor partners, the State of Delaware, which has been behind us 100 percent and has done wonderfully for us in terms of their support and their efforts to make sure we have everything we need, and also the regulatory bodies here in Delaware that are willing to work with us to make us a stronger and safer port as we go forward.”