Expanding in the college market seems like a no-brainer for Wilmington-based Port City Java. There is a captive market with thousands of sleep-deprived students — not to mention staff — ripe for the coffee-shop chain’s picking. Port City Java began its march into higher education eight years ago at N.C. State University in Raleigh, but it recently expanded, entering UNC Wilmington and Clemson, Elon and High Point universities. “There’s no such thing as a recession on a college campus. It’s a different economic structure,” says CEO Steve Schnitzler, whose daughter is a sophomore at N.C. State. “[College campuses] do things differently than your mom-and-pop operator.” But growth comes with obstacles. Port City Java started its drive on campus at N.C. State, which handles its own food operations. That made it slightly easier for Port City Java to get a contract. UNCW, on the other hand, contracts with third-party vendor Aramark, and Port City Java had to become an approved partner with the Philadelphia-based company to have a shot at its associated schools. Schnitzler said it’s a double-edged sword: Students may prefer an alternative to Starbucks, but being small makes it harder to gain brand recognition as the school population turns over every few years. Universities also tend to take longer to open new enterprises than the private sector. For instance, Schnitzler said Port City Java is in discussions with High Point to open a cafe in a new campus building that won’t be completed for two years. Schools or third-party vendors pay a franchise fee to Port City Java, as well as a royalty on sales. Some schools, such as UNCW, have cafes on campus, while others, such as Clemson, offer the company’s products in dining halls and catering services. Overall, the company that started in 1995 and now has 30 locations is employing a strategy of slow and steady growth, content to open a handful of new stores each year, with a mix of corporate-owned and franchised shops. “We are very cautious about how we do things. We want to make sure we grow in a very controlled, systematic manner.” Schnitzler previously owned the company but sold it in 2011 to W. Cecil Worsley III, a Wilmington businessman who sold 140 Scotchman gas stations in 2008 to Sun Capital Partners, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based private-equity company. (Worsley retained his fuel-supply business, Springer Eubank) Port City Java doesn’t disclose revenue, but it roasted almost 250,000 pounds of coffee last year, 14% more than in 2013.
WILMINGTON — Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Tom Adams chairman of the N.C. State Ports Authority. A board member since January 2014, Adams is CEO of Ocean Isle Beach-based Adams Building and Consulting Company and a member of the Brunswick County Economic Development Commission. He replaces Mike Lee, who left the board last summer to fill the N.C. Senate seat vacated by Thom Goolsby and was elected to a four-year term in November.
WASHINGTON — First South Bancorp bought nine Bank of America branches in eastern North Carolina for an undisclosed amount. Based here, the parent company of First South Bank now operates 35 branches in eastern and central North Carolina. First South also opened a loan production office in Durham on Dec. 1.
WILSON — McCall Farms will close its sweet-potato processing plant, idling all 64 workers by March 5. The Effingham, S.C.-based vegetable company bought the plant from Bruce Foods in 2013. Some employees will be offered jobs at the company’s South Carolina plant.
ROANOKE RAPIDS — Duke Energy Renewables, a unit of Charlotte-based Duke Energy, acquired a 20-megawatt solar project from Charlotte-based Geenex and China-based ET Solar Energy for an undisclosed amount. Duke will sell energy generated from the solar farm to Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Resources through a 15-year agreement. The utility now operates more than 80 megawatts of solar projects in eastern North Carolina.
WILSON — Douglas Searcy will become the 12th president of Barton College on July 1. Searcy is vice president for student affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. He will succeed Norval Kneten, president since 2003, who is retiring. Founded in 1902 as Atlantic Christian College, Barton is a private, liberal-arts college with about 1,000 students.