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Port of Virginia Uses $84M Freezer to Address Supply Chain

A 167,264-square-foot freezer facility is fighting the supply chain slowdown by increasing storage density and capacity. Technologically advanced, the facility features automated logistics.

Freezer facility
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(TNS) — One of the Port of Virginia’s latest tools in the fight against supply chain disruption is almost as big as three football fields and “blasts” frozen food products with temperatures as low as 35 degrees below zero.

A new 167,264-square-foot cold storage warehouse near the Portsmouth Marine Terminal is open. The $84 million warehouse project transformed a long-vacant BASF chemical factory site into a fully automated logistics facility employing more than 80 workers.

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball acknowledged just how lucky development officials were when they announced the project in 2019.

“We all look like geniuses as we stand here today, because who would have known we were going to get into the supply chain constraints that we’re experiencing in this country today?” Ball asked attendees during Wednesday’s opening ceremony.

Though supply chain issues have affected businesses throughout the pandemic, a recent traffic jam of cargo containers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, ports prompted President Joe Biden to announce a deal keeping the LA port open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the Associated Press. With container ships bottlenecked and unloaded goods waiting for trucks, shipments have been delayed. The resulting shortages are fueling rising costs and inflation.

Portsmouth’s new automated cold storage facility is designed to minimize backups, Lineage Logistics Vice President of Regional Sales Ryan Laurent said. He said the terminal-adjacent facility is the company’s most technologically advanced cold storage operation on the East Coast.

“It allows us to increase storage density, maximize capacity, keep food safe and most importantly, reduce energy consumption,” Laurent said.

Inside the facility’s intake unit, pallets of food are moved across conveyor belts, then zipped around on automated trolleys to their correct place. On Wednesday, the large pallets were filled with cashews from Vietnam.

The warehouse has the ability to store 26,000 pallets. It’s also able to “blast freeze” the food by pumping air as cold as minus 35 degrees through the freezer rooms.

Cathie Vick, chief development and government affairs officer for the Virginia Port Authority, referenced the threat that supply disruptions could have on Christmas presents during the presentation. Earlier in October, Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki couldn’t guarantee holiday packages would arrive on time.

“That is not the case here, let me tell you,” Vick said.

The Lineage facility helps the port support a 40% increase in refrigerated cargo capacity from recent infrastructure improvements, she said.

The warehouse jobs pay $15-$25 an hour in addition to a few salaried positions, said Will Stevens, Lineage sales manager. Stevens said the employee count was roughly the same as a traditional warehouse, dismissing concerns about the automation taking jobs away from workers.

Stevens and Ray Urban, Lineage regional manager, said it was too soon to know exactly how much faster the automated facility would run compared with a traditional warehouse.

©2021 The Virginian-Pilot. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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