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The rising flow of goods and materials through the Port of Charleston could lift the Upstate’s fortunes in the coming years, South Carolina’s top ports official told a group of Spartanburg business leaders Thursday night.
Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the S.C. Ports Authority, gave the keynote address at Spartanburg Community College’s inaugural Economic Visionaries awards banquet held at the Spartanburg Marriott.
Newsome told the crowd discount retailer Dollar Tree’s 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center in Cowpens is just the first of many large economic development projects that will be attracted to the region by the agency’s inland port in Spartanburg County.
“I think we’ll see a lot more in the future,” he said. “We exist to invest in assets that will help us serve the state of South Carolina and this very important region.”
Newsome said the Port of Charleston is the nation’s ninth largest port in terms of volume, ahead of other ports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Boston, and New Orleans.
The port handled a record 2 million 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, in 2016. Its volume increased 45 percent between 2011 and 2016, making it the fastest-growing port in terms of percentage growth in the U.S. during that period.
Newsome said a handful of large manufacturing companies, including several based in the Upstate — BMW Manufacturing Co., Michelin North America, International Paper, and GE — account for 10 percent of the state’s container volume.
He said the inland port near Greer, which enables goods to be shipped overnight by rail between the Upstate and Port of Charleston, has completed 108,000 rail lifts since it opened in November 2013.
“I thought we could do that in five years. We’ve done it in three,” Newsome said.
Newsome said the expansion of the Panama Canal, consolidation of major shipping lines, and the introduction of larger shipping vessels position the Port of Charleston for future growth.
A deepening of Charleston Harbor from its current 45-foot depth to 52 feet will enable the port to accommodate ships carrying up to14,000 TEUs. It would also make it the deepest port on the East Coast, Newsome said.
During the next five years, the state and S.C. Ports Authority plan to spend $2.15 billion on several projects. The allocations include $770 million for the first phase of the Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal expansion; $40 million to build a new inland port in Dillon County; $560 million for infrastructure and IT projects; $300 million for the harbor deepening, $200 million for an access road for the Leatherman terminal; and $289 million for a new dual access intermodal railhead.
Newsome said the S.C. Ports Authority participated in efforts to attract Swedish automaker Volvo to Berkeley County.
“An automotive company is not going to locate where there’s not a good port,” he said.
Newsome also cited a 2015 economic impact study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business that showed the port supports $53 billion in annual economic activity statewide; supports 10 percent of the state’s gross domestic product; generates $914 million in annual state tax revenue; and is responsible for $10.2 billion in annual labor income.
After Newsome’s speech, SCC officials honored four Upstate companies as Economic Visionaries based on their business vision, and commitment to education, the environment, and their communities.
Henry Giles, president of SCC, said 28 companies were nominated for the awards. The winning businesses were chosen in four categories based on their number of employees.
Gaffney-based Broad River Electric Cooperative won the award for companies with 1 to 50 employees.
Spartanburg-based Atchison Transportation Services earned the award for companies with 51 to 100 employees.
Timken Co.’s Tyger River Plant in Union received the award for companies with 101 to 299 employees.
Spartanburg County-based BMW Manufacturing Co. claimed the award for companies with 300 or more employees.
“We wanted to do something to recognize the outstanding businesses in our community,” Giles said. “To have one company selected from each of the three counties [served by SCC] was very special.”
Giles said the college intends to hold the event annually.