The maritime industry is more than the ships that carry cargo across the seas. It also includes the companies that transport goods to and from ports. Essentially, it comprises multiple stakeholders each step along the supply chain.
In Virginia, hundreds of those participants belong to the Virginia Maritime Association, which was organized in 1920 to promote, protect and encourage both international and domestic commerce through Virginia’s ports. Some examples of key export products include tobacco, forestry products, vegetables, chicken, and pork, which leave our counties daily on trucks or trains for worldwide shipment. Southside Virginia companies also depend on port facilities in Hampton Roads for imports of raw materials used in chemical and automotive plants, precision machine manufacturing, and other high-tech operations.
One VMA participant is Hooker Furniture Corporation in Martinsville. In our 95th year of business, Hooker is one of the nation’s largest publicly traded furniture sources, who, along with our Home Meridian division depends heavily on the services of the VMA. Annually, we import over 6,000 40-foot-equivalent containers of imported furniture through marine terminals in Norfolk and Portsmouth. Hooker Furniture also operates three domestic upholstery divisions: Sam Moore, Bradington-Young and Shenandoah Furniture. They have multiple facilities in Virginia and North Carolina that import certain raw materials and component parts for their manufacturing operations.
The Port of Virginia offers the most competitive and reliable ocean freight services within our import trade routes. The recently expanded Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth, which has eight cranes to service the most massive ships on the seas today. Norfolk International Terminal is also a premier operation, having recently completed a $350 million upgrade and can currently accommodate up to 14,000 vessels, among other continuous operational improvements.
Generally speaking, the Port of Virginia now has the best channels on the East Coast. And, with the impetus of the VMA, it is gearing up for even wider, deeper and safer ones. These port also is ramping up automation to reduce downtime for trucks that provide drayage services. All of these positive initiatives clearly assist efforts to lure prospective companies engaged in international trade to our region.
The Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, our area’s economic development authority, boasts to prospects not only about our ample and diverse workforce, but also having one of the nation’s leading ports within a 3-4 hour drive via U.S. 58 and an efficient rail service between Norfolk and Greensboro, N.C.
The maritime industry’s partner in all this is the VMA, which carries significant clout in Richmond and Washington. It has 27 committees composed of industry stakeholders that come together for the common good. They research and address all conceivable issues affecting maritime supply chain commerce.
The VMA looks out for its members, whether they are in South Boston, Chesapeake, Arlington, or Winchester, and has active chapters across Virginia. The Southern Chapter, which I am proud to chair, encompasses the counties of Henry, Halifax, Patrick and Pittsylvania, the cities of Danville and Martinsville and the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina.
Our mission is to educate and raise awareness of the value of international trade for all of Virginia. We address issues that affect our region by involving leaders in manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, transportation (ocean, rail, truck or air), customs brokerage, economic development, and government. The more our chapters grow, the more formidable our influence becomes when collaborating on capital funding for infrastructure like highways, as well as fair treatment from regulatory agencies.
Next May, as it celebrates its Centennial, the VMA will have its annual international trade symposium in Norfolk. I will be there because it’s good for Hooker Furniture, as well as for Virginia’s Southern Piedmont. Solid partners like the Virginia Maritime Association and the Port of Virginia also help attract new jobs to our area.
On Oct. 2, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., our chapter will host a transportation forum and reception at The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville. Register at www.vamaritime.com/events, and please come. As I have learned from attending events sponsored by the VMA, the more we connect with the Virginia Maritime Association and industry leaders, the better it is for our local economy.