Dean Barber

Roadstead, the Squealer, and Captain Phillips

In Places on September 15, 2013 at 8:04 am

NORFOLK, Va. – Everything looks better from the water.

This is especially so when you are in a safe harbor, and on an evening cruise aboard a yacht in Hampton Roads.

As a barefooted passenger, I took lots of photos of all sorts of grey ominous looking ships of the U.S. Navy as we motored past the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

The impressive armada included an array of destroyers, cruisers, amphibious vessels and some ships that I did not know what they were or did, but was gratified to know that they were there.

Someone pointed out the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), the 10th and final Nimitz -class supercarrier. Only minutes earlier, we had passed the USS Wisconsin, a decommissioned battleship now berthed for public tour.

At one point during our harbor tour while passing the naval yard, I asked one of my hosts: “Is it OK that I am taking these photographs?”

I was assured that I would not be thrown in the brig for espionage, and was told that it wasn’t too long ago (pre 9/11 and the USS Cole) when you could motor up right alongside the bulkhead of one these imposing warships. Now floating barriers and security boats keep unwanted intruders at bay.

A Motley Crew

Fourteen other site selection consultants were aboard the yacht. Among them were the moose-deprived Ron Ruberg of New Jersey (See May 26 blog “No Place for the Faint of Heart”; Phoenix-based Russ Ullinger with Foote Consulting Group, dressed like an accidental tourist; and Dallas-based Tim Feemster, a serious expert on transportation and logistics who can be pretty funny at times.

And transportation and logistics were why we were here – to learn more about the importance of the Port of Virginia and how it should figure into our calculations when working a site search project.

During a working breakfast earlier that morning, Mike Lehmkuhler, vice president of business attraction with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and Darryl Gosnell, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, gave us informative briefings on the port and the surrounding region, which, like the body of water, is also called Hampton Roads. More on that later.

After breakfast, we were to shuttled 22 miles from the port to the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Suffolk. The fairly new logistics park is home to two distribution centers – a 336,960-foot Ace Hardware warehouse, which came online last year, and a 350,000-square foot warehouse operated by the Navy Exchange Service Command.

A prepared shovel-ready pad sits on a 24-acre site adjacent to the Ace Hardware facility, designed for a 350,000-square-foot building. CenterPoint believes it can build up to 5.8 million square feet of industrial facilities on the 648 useable acres within the park, which fronts 12,000 linear feet of CSX main line.

Right across U.S. 58, Target operates a 1.8 million square foot distribution center.

When I was in Detroit a few weeks ago, I thought it strange to see a city of 700,000 people within 130 square miles. Complete city blocks had been obliterated, reverting back to a prairie/rural appearance.

Suffolk is 450 square miles with about 86,000 residents. With expansive fields of peanuts, cotton and soybeans, there are places where you would have no idea you were within a city limits or that a city was even nearby.

The Squealer

From Suffolk, we headed north to the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, owned by the county Isle of Wight. But despite the name, we were not on an island. I didn’t ask.

Lisa Perry, the local economic developer, gave us a rundown on the 1,500-acre  park, where Green Mountain Coffee Roasters operates a new roasting, grinding and packaging facility that will eventually employ 800 people. The park is served by Norfolk Southern, which owns an adjacent 1,700-acre site that the railroad would like to see go toward a future automotive assembly plant or steel mill.

But I must say that my most memorable moment at Isle of Wight was being served a donut that was dripping with maple syrup and bacon bits. It was called “the Squealer” and it may have been the best thing that I have ever eaten.

It turns out the donut shop that produces this secret weapon is owned and operated by Amy Ring, business development manager at the Isle of Wight’s Department of Economic Development. That is so diabolically clever.

Advanced Cargo Facilities

A working lunch would follow at the 573-acre APMT Virginia cargo terminal in Portsmouth, probably the most technologically advanced marine cargo facility in the nation with 4,000 linear feet of berth and 3.3 miles of on-site rail with links to NS and CSX.

The lunch was good, and the facilities briefing topnotch, but I couldn’t get my mind off the Squealer.

Later that afternoon, we were taken to the top of an office tower at the 648-acre Norfolk International Terminals (NIT), the Port of Virginia’s largest terminal and home to 14 of the biggest, most efficient cranes in the world. With a reach stretching 245 feet, the cranes can offload ships loaded 27 containers wide.

There are 12 new on-dock rail lines here at NIT, doubling the capacity of the rail yard.

It was only during our harbor evening cruise that I finally got over that killer donut.  While everything does look better from the water, I was able to gain a bit more understanding of the harbor and port facilities when I saw it from the vantage point of a boat.

The cranes at NIT, standing like towering sentinels at the wharf, were even more impressive when viewed from the channel.

A Place of Firsts

But I really wanted to see the spot where the Battle of Hampton Roads took place March 8-9, 1862, between the first American ironclad warships, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack). Russ Held, senior vice president of business development with the Virginia Port Authority, pointed out the general area.

I believe my in-depth knowledgeable consultant response was, “Wow.”

Hampton Roads is steeped with history, maybe more so than any place in America. It’s here where the makings of a nation would begin with the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown.

In case you haven’t figured out by now, virtually all the place names are of English origin.  Hampton refers to the third earl of Southhampton, who was a founder of the Virginia Company of London.

More interesting to me than some lace-wearing royal is the fact that the word “Roads” (short for roadstead) meant “a place less sheltered than a harbor where ships may ride at anchor.”

And for more than 400 years, ships have been riding at anchor in Hampton Roads, known as the world’s largest natural harbor. It is also the northernmost major East Coast port of the U.S. which is ice-free year round. And with a 50-foot-deep channel, it is one of the deepest harbors on the East Coast. Only Baltimore can match it in that regard.

Because of all these natural attributes, Hampton Roads became an early focal point for the U.S. Navy and commercial shipping. The Gosport Shipyard, renamed the Northfolk Naval Shipyard during the Civil War, was founded here in 1767.

It was here where the keel of USS Chesapeake, one of the first six frigates authorized by Congress, was laid in 1799. And it was here where Drydock Number One, the first functional dry dock in the Americas, was built and used in 1833.

Today, the Navy drydocks nuclear aircraft carriers here and old Drydock Number One is still in use.

I could go on and on about the history of this region and many more firsts, but the purpose of this blog (and my consulting business) is to lean forward into the future, which is precisely why I came here.

An Economic Engine

The Port of Virginia is aptly named. It includes not only four port facilities within the Hampton Roads harbor, but the Port of Richmond farther up the James River and an inland port at Front Royal more than 200 miles away. As such, the Port of Virginia is an economic engine for the entire state, resulting in 343,000 port and port-related jobs statewide and $41 billion in business revenues.

Outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell spoke about this during our first night in Norfolk. His elevator speech was as good as I have ever heard from a governor. Actually, it was a bit longer than elevator speech but not by much. The point is that he wore the mantel of the state’s top economic development spokesman quite well, which is not always the case with governors.

The Port of Virginia facilities within Hampton Roads are within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population and ranks as the third busiest port on the East Coast behind New York/New Jersey and Savannah in terms of TEU count.

 “Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit” a standard linear industry measurement used in measuring container traffic flows.  One 20-foot long container equals one TEU while one 40-foot container equals two TEUs. One 40-foot container can hold 1,512 cases of beer. I wonder how many Squealers could fit into one.

The Port of Virginia handled more than 2.1 million TEUs in 2012 – more than 1.1 million dedicated to export and nearly 974,000 in import. The total TEU count to date this year is up over 2012. In short, the port is bustling with activity.

Captain Phillips

Finally, there is this soon-to-be-released movie Captain Phillips. I had the pleasure to meet John Reinhart, president and CEO of Norfolk-based Maersk Line Limited, which owned the container ship Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

Parts of the movie, starring Tom Hanks as the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, were filmed in Norfolk. I asked Reinhart if he knew beforehand that Seal Team Six, also based in Norfolk, would be sent in to bring a resolution to the situation

Reinhart said he could not confirm that, but did say that he was able to meet the Navy Seal marksmen who ended the standoff.

To which I believe my in-depth knowledgeable consultant response was again, “Wow.”

I have posted some photographs from my trip to Hampton Roads on Instagram:

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas.

If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

Telephone: 972-767-9518. Email:  Visit our website at

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