Record year expected on the docks in Charleston
By BRUCE SMITH
Post and Courier, Charleston
A growing regional economy and strong demand for automobiles are among the reasons it should be a record year on the docks in the Charleston area, the chief of the South Carolina Ports Authority says.
The authority had its best year ever in fiscal 2006, before the Great Recession set in, when more than 1.13 million shipping containers were moved through the Port of Charleston’s three terminals.
Although there was double-digit growth in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the authority is projecting a more modest 7 percent growth this year. But fiscal 2016 still should be the best year on record, said Jim Newsome, the agency’s president and chief executive officer. He said there are a number of reasons.
A growing regional economy: The U.S. Census Bureau reports nine of the 20 fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation are in the South Atlantic region with three — Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Beaufort County — on the South Carolina coast.
“The Southeast is the best place to be in the port business,” Newsome said. “We have both import growth and manufacturing growth which drives exports.” Shipments of such things as plastics and farm commodities have also increased, he said.
Driving growth: With the average vehicle age in the United States a record 11.5 years old, new car sales are expected to reach 17 million this year. “We are particularly dependent on the automotive industry and the automotive industry is booming,” Newsome said. The port serves companies such as BMW, which has a plant in Greer, tire manufacturer Michelin North America, which operates seven South Carolina plants, and Mercedes Benz Vans, which reassembles Sprinter vans manufactured in Germany in North Charleston.
Port use by automotive manufacturers will only increase with Mercedes-Benz Vans and Volvo each planning to invest a half-billion dollars in new Charleston area plants.
Inland port: The $25 million inland port in Greer, which opened almost two years ago, has also led to an increase in shipping through the port, Newsome said. The inland port provides a location where containers carried on trains to and from the coast are loaded off of and onto trucks.
Newsome expects the facility will only get busier. He noted that Dollar Tree Inc. is investing more than $100 million in a retail distribution center near the inland port. “I think there will be more of those because at that location you are within 500 miles of 100 million customers,” he said.
Productivity: Newsome said the mantra at the port is productivity — moving cargo in and out of the Charleston area terminals quickly. Earlier this year, the port added Saturday hours when trucks can be loaded and unloaded. “Our job is to get ships in and out in 24 hours and trucks in and out in an hour. If we are not doing that, we are not doing our job,” he said.