Cargo handlers at Virginia’s container terminals saw one of their busiest months this summer.
The port handled 265,559 containers in July, up roughly 5% from the same month last year. It marked the second busiest month in the port’s history, behind only October 2018 when it handled 270,538 containers.
That places Virginia third for July volumes among major ports along the East Coast. Georgia’s port handled 387,024 containers, New York/New Jersey handled 662,994, and South Carolina handled 210,542.
Local port leaders “anticipate this trend to continue well into fall,” CEO and executive director John Reinhart said in a statement.
Reinhart credits the higher volumes to a recent expansion of Virginia International Gateway, a major terminal capable of handling a couple million containers a year.
Of the total containers handled here in July, 137,651 were exported, data show. Of those exports, 41% — or 56,696 — were empty.
That’s a jump of nearly 18% in exported empty containers, which the port said are being redistributed across the world in anticipation of peak retail season.
Also pitching in to strong July numbers was the Richmond Marine Terminal. Barges took 3,641 containers up to the capitol city from Hampton Roads, a roughly 12% increase over the same month last year.
Barge volume was up more than 16% (4,809 containers) year-to-date.
A variety of other factors play into increased volumes. For one, that upcoming retail season.
“We’re getting ready for the supply of the Christmas rush,” said John Martin, an economist who runs the maritime consulting firm Martin Associates in Lancaster, Pa.
Two, cargo manufacturers are trying to get ahead of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, our top trading partner, said Robert McNab, an economics professor at Old Dominion University. Impending tariff increases mean it’s a smart fiscal decision to move your cargo before those levies are slapped on.
Also playing a part: more trade and production centers have been shifting to countries outside of China like Vietnam, Thailand and India, Martin said. Products made there and imported to the U.S. are moving through the Suez Canal — not the Panama Canal, like they would if they were made in China.
Travel through the Suez Canal favors East Coast ports like New York, Virginia, Baltimore and Georgia for handling that cargo. Those ports are closer than Los Angeles and Long Beach, two major ports on the West Coast.