South Carolina Ports Authority President and CEO, Jim Newsome, delivered his eighth State of the Port on September 12. At the annual event hosted by, the Propeller Club of Charleston, Newsome reviewed the Port’s financial and volume gains in recent years and the investments required for SCPA to meet the changing needs of the shipping industry.
SCPA posted increases in both containerized and breakbulk cargo at its Charleston facilities in fiscal year 2016 amid challenges in the world economy. The Port’s container volume grew 1.4 percent fiscal year over year, and non-containerized cargo handled in Charleston exceeded planned tonnage by 33 percent. Continued growth of intermodal rail drove record-setting volumes at Inland Port Greer, which handled 91,698 rail moves in FY2016.
“The Port achieved growth of volumes and operating earnings in spite of an overall slowing of world trade,” Newsome said. “We also accomplished significant progress on numerous critical projects – modernization of the Wando Welch Terminal wharf, and implementation of an advanced gate system that enables us to efficiently handle that facility’s growing cargo volumes; continued fill activity and other construction work on the Hugh K. Leatherman, Sr. Terminal; and enhancements to refrigerated cargo handling capabilities at both container terminals.”
In the year ahead, Newsome expects the Southeastern port market to continue to enjoy strong volume growth relative to the overall U.S. port market, supported by foreign-direct investment in manufacturing as well as a steadily increasing consumer market.
For SCPA, the automotive industry will remain a bright spot both in the coming fiscal year and long-term, with the opening of the Volvo North America plant. Establishment of retail distribution centers, such as the Dollar Tree facility in Cowpens, will also be a driver of growth enabled by the Port’s inland facilities. SCPA will build upon the success of Inland Port Greer with the construction a second inland facility in Dillon, South Carolina, that will open by the end of 2017.
Despite financial uncertainty in the container shipping industry and further consolidation of major carriers, Newsome said big ships remain the catalyst for port investment and will drive the focus of SCPA’s short and long-term projects.
“Today 16 of 26 weekly container services calling the Port of Charleston utilize New Panamax vessels, and we expect to see others upsized in the future,” Newsome said. “Top 10 ports must make significant investments to prepare facilities to serve these bigger ships, including taller cranes and stronger terminal infrastructure, as well as harbor deepening projects. We have worked diligently to ensure that the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project to 52 feet remains on track to deliver all of the capabilities needed of a modern harbor by the end of the decade.”
Looking ahead, Newsome said SCPA’s major priorities are investment, terminal optimization and cargo base expansion. He predicted another fiscal year of record capital investments in the Port, and together SCPA and the state of South Carolina will invest $2.2 billion over ten years to deliver projects critical to the Port’s competitiveness.
As the Port prepares to commission two new ship-to-shore cranes this fall, two additional cranes have been ordered and plans are underway to raise four more cranes at the Wando Terminal. In addition, a new terminal operating system and improved land utilization top Newsome’s plans to ensure SCPA can efficiently work two 14,000 TEU vessels simultaneously.
Vital to the Port’s ability to sustain the volumes and revenue required for such investments is the expansion of its cargo base. In addition to the large cargo volumes driven by manufacturing, private sector investment in near-port facilities also plays a key role in SCPA’s growth. The Port is seeing the benefits of such facilities to serve specialized markets, including cold chain and plastics.
“We must be innovative to attract new types of cargo,” Newsome said. “While there are challenges ahead, we are making significant progress in all the fundamental areas that will drive our success. There is no question that global businesses will locate near global ports, bringing with them promising opportunity for our state and region. SCPA is a strong partner for business.”
Newsome concluded his remarks with an inward look at SCPA’s organizational approach to meeting industry needs. With the adoption of new vision and values as part of a culture change initiative, SCPA’s nearly 500 employees have ownership of the Port’s future.
“SCPA has a talented workforce and maritime community, and they are critical components of our success,” Newsome said. “We provide a good product, and our customers can rely on us to keep their freight moving.”