At 300,000 tons, frozen meat ranked ninth among commodities unloaded at the area's docks last year.
"Holt basically has cornered that market, and this puts a competitor in," said Susan Howland, spokeswoman for the Ports of Philadelphia Maritime Exchange, a trade organization that represents 200 port-related businesses.
"If New Orleans Cold Storage came here to increase the Delaware River ports' market share of imported meat and fish, that's positive. But if (the company) just wants to lure cargo from another terminal, the region doesn't gain and it just fuels intraport competition. That could be counterproductive to the larger issue of unification."
A panel appointed by Gov. Casey has recommended that port operations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey be unified under one agency to enable shipping operations on both sides of the Delaware River to compete with other North Atlantic ports.
James Fargason Jr., president of New Orleans Cold Storage, yesterday said that his company and Holt "complement" each other and that he would attract new business to the area.
But he added: "If Mr. Holt wants to compete, we're . . . ready to compete."
Officials of the Holt firm could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Earlier this year, representatives of Holt unsuccessfully sought an injunction to block New Orleans Cold Storage from leasing the refrigerated warehouse at Packer Avenue. A Holt representative said then that Holt would pay up to three times the $110,000 minimum annual rental that New Orleans Cold Storage has agreed to pay for the warehouse.
At a signing ceremony yesterday at the Packer Avenue terminal, Mayor Goode described the agreement with New Orleans Cold Storage as "an exciting day for this city and its port."
"The revitalization of this port should remain a major priority for all of us," Goode said.
The refrigerated warehouse at Packer Avenue has been idle for seven years. It is expected to reopen in November.
In its first year in Philadelphia, New Orleans Cold Storage expects to handle 84,000 tons of frozen meat and fish, most of which comes from Australia and New Zealand. After being unloaded and warehoused, the meat and fish will be distributed to food-processing firms and, ultimately, to supermarkets, fast-food chains and other customers.
The Packer Avenue warehouse is the first venture by New Orleans Cold Storage in the Philadelphia area. The company, which had revenue of $15.2 million last year, operates three refrigerated warehouses in New Orleans and one in Charleston, S.C.
Fargason said that the company chose Philadelphia after a four-year search of Atlantic Coast ports from Maine to Norfolk, Va.
"We've been around for 102 years," he said. "We may be slow, but we're not dumb. . . . This is the place we chose to come."
He cited Philadelphia's proximity to main highways and major population centers, its "workable" port and a labor agreement with the ILA as big factors in the choice.
The labor agreement calls for New Orleans Cold Storage to pay some of its workers $14 an hour, or $4 less than the standard hourly wage for workers represented by the ILA.
To compensate for the lower rate, those workers will have regular 40-hour work weeks instead of being called only when work is available, according to Fargason and Lucien E. Blackwell, the city councilman who is president of Local 1332 of the ILA.
"We made concessions to get the work inside the warehouse," Blackwell said. "You have to. . . . Why get $18 an hour if the place is empty?"