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The government will not replace the customs agent at the NRV Airport.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Austin Daniel positions his Yak-52 on the tarmac of the New River Valley Airport in Dublin.
Friday, July 19, 2013
The federal government has cut the only customs agent position in Southwest Virginia , which now means the region can no longer receive international flights or shipments unless they first pass through another port.
It’s a loss elected officials, industry leaders and local governments say will handicap the area as it makes a push to attract international industries.
Michael Kirkpatrick was manning the “port of entry” at the New River Valley Airport in Dublin for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He was charged with helping companies throughout the New River and Roanoke valleys deal with the headaches of importing and exporting. He could do inspections, sign off on paperwork and offer guidance when shipments got held up on their way into the country.
When Kirkpatrick retired earlier this year, a sign was placed on the door to his office instructing visitors to contact a different port.
At first, regional officials were under the impression the vacancy was temporary. But CBP spokeswoman Virginia Dabbs told The Roanoke Times on Thursday the federal agency will not be appointing a new port director.
“CBP continuously seeks to improve our operations to adapt to evolving threats and changing travel and trade patterns,” Dabbs read from an official statement on Thursday. “In an effort to utilize our resources in the most affective way possible, CBP has implemented procedures at the port of New River Valley, Virginia, that will allow CBP to allow service at the port, including general cargo and foreign trade zone processing, via coordination with CBP officials at the port of Richmond. As such, CBP will not be identifying a new port director of New River Valley.”
Ports are places where CBP agents regulate incoming and outgoing traffic for the country. They collect duties, clear passengers and inspect shipments.
Not every region gets the designation, as there are only four in Virginia. It’s considered a major advantage for economic development because having a port nearby makes international trade less complicated. The port has been used as a business recruiting tool since it was recognized by the federal government in 2006.
But now incoming cargo in this region will have to be processed and inspected more than two hours away in Richmond. Also, the Roanoke, New River Valley and Virginia Tech airports can no longer receive international passengers.
Keith Holt, manager of the NRV Airport, said he used to get international visitors about once a month. The Virginia Tech and Roanoke airports both rarely deal with international traffic. But the director of Tech’s airport said the loss could become a larger issue as it looks to expand in the near future.
Volvo Trucks, a Sweden-based auto manufacturer with a facility in Dublin, said it typically uses larger ports in other parts of the state for its shipments. Spokesmen for it and Red Sun Farms, a Mexican-based vegetable grower opening a facility in Dublin, both say the loss will have little effect on their business.
Aric Bopp, executive director of New River Valley Economic Development Authority, said he just wants an explanation for why the port can’t have one agent when others have multiple. As the port sat empty over the past months, Bopp said he received letters of support from “everybody and their brother.”
Martin Faye, manufacturing director for Phoenix Packaging Operations in Dublin, was one of those who said his business has been impeded.
“Having access to nearby/proximate CBP personnel was a factor when our company chose to locate our facility in Pulaski County in 2010,” he wrote in a letter. “We compete in a global economy and having ready access to global markets, global customers, global suppliers, global visitors, and global investors is critical to our business.”
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith also took up the issue, writing a joint letter to CBP’s deputy director.
“Maintaining a fully-staffed and functional Port of Entry is vital to southwest Virginia,” the letter reads. “There is no other immediate CBP presence within two hours of these areas and the absence of this facility would make it more difficult for this rural region to compete globally over the long term.”
Jim Loux, president of Allegheny Logistics Group, said the new arrangement isn’t the same as having a customs agent on site.
His Dublin-based company helps the region’s industries take care of importing and exporting needs. He said his customers used to love having a CBP official in their own back yard.
“Our customs officer got to know our companies in our region,” Loux said. “They were, in a sense, his companies.”
He said it’s not unusual for shipments to get held up in customs, which becomes a major problem when companies have an assembly line waiting on a shipment. When that happened, Kirkpatrick used to work with the federal government and the company to resolve the issue.
“Customers loved that,” Loux said. “The stuff was not jammed up in Norfolk or some other place. It got brought all the way here. Or if it got hung up there, he could clear it. … All that is gone.”
Now he said, the region’s companies are forced to wait until someone from Richmond can take care of them.
“You have to explain to me real good why we can’t have one guy to cover entire Southwest Virginia at a port that is already established here,” he said. “Just put a guy back there. It just doesn’t make business sense to me.”
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