Posted on October 25, 2023
The South Carolina Ports Authority has a $9.7 billion economic impact on the Pee Dee Region and supports 1 in 12 of the region’s jobs, according to a new study.
The findings of the 2023 S.C. Ports Economic Impact Study were presented by its author, Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist and professor with the University of South Carolina, at a Ports Authority luncheon held at the Florence Center on Monday.
Ports Authority President and CEO Barbara Melvin said the nearby Inland Port Dillon, which hauls cargo from the Pee Dee to the port in Charleston by rail, was the authority’s “shining star” in 2023.
“They grew their cargo base by more than 50% and truly stood out among all of our terminals as best performers, and we look forward to growing together for years to come,” Melvin said.
To give context to the numbers, the Ports Authority brought representatives of two of its regular customers up on stage for a panel discussion about Inland Port Dillon.
Leslie Thompson, the co-owner of C&M Grains in Latta, said the port has caused her business to expand dramatically by allowing her, and thus the farmers she buys from, to reach a global market.
Since partnering with the inland port, the company has more than doubled its storage capabilities, has invested in new equipment and increased employment by more than 25%, according to Thompson. In 2022’s soybean season, the company moved around 3,440 containers of soybeans compared to the roughly 830 it moved in its first year.
“I think the Dillon Inland Port has helped to give the farmers of South Carolina a boost and a base of support by connecting them to the foreign trade market, and in return, this flows to all the local businesses related to agriculture, and we are glad to be a part of it,” she said.
The company buys from farmers across North Carolina and South Carolina in counties including Dillon, Marlboro, Florence, Marion, Williamsburg, Darlington, Chesterfield, Horry, Lee, Clarendon and Robeson.
C&M Grains put through 23% of all the soybeans grown across South Carolina in 2022, according to Thompson.
The other company represented at the panel discussion was Harbor Freight, which operates a distribution center near Inland Port Dillon. Terence Anderson, Harbor Freight’s representative at the discussion, said the company has been able to expand because of the port.
When the inland port came online in 2018, the Harbor Freight distribution center was around two million square feet, employed around 850 people and serviced roughly 350 stores, according to Anderson.
Five years later, the center has expanded to over three million square feet, employs 2300 people during its peak season and services 755 stores, he said. The upgrades have helped the center move thousands more containers each year.
With growth has come a larger focus on giving back to the company’s employees and community.
In the last seven years, Harbor Frieght’s Dillon distribution center has raised wages by over 150%, according to Anderson. He said the company has also invested in new equipment to make the heavy work easier for employees.
The relationship between businesses and Inland Port Dillon goes beyond just dropping off full containers and picking up empty ones. Anderson said he has a “daily partnership” with the port that facilitates open and smooth communication.
Thompson said port officials even worked with her company during its first expansion to make sure it would be ready to work with the inland port.
Customer outreach is driving Inland Port Dillon’s continued growth, according to terminal manager Michael Elmore. He told the Morning News after the luncheon that, since the pandemic, the inland port has stepped in to help its customers with logistics and equipment.
“It’s good to see that we can take the local farmers and local businesses and actually give them an opportunity to get into the global market,” Elmore said.
The authority is having a similar impact across the state and abroad, according to the economic impact study. It is estimated to have a statewide economic impact of $86.7 billion annually and contribute directly or indirectly to over 260,000 jobs, which is 1 in 9 of all jobs statewide.
“The South Carolina Ports Authority is a principal asset for South Carolina’s economy,” said Nessen, the study’s author. “It is a very simple conclusion that comes out of all the data.”
Advanced manufacturing and retail or distribution businesses are the industries Nessen said will be primarily responsible for the long-term economic success of South Carolina, and they are also the two industries supported heavily by the ports.
Of all the goods exported from South Carolina ports, 73% come from companies located in South Carolina. Those companies and those that support them pay their employees more than the state average and hire diverse candidates, according to Nessen.
When factoring in surrounding states, South Carolina ports have a total economic impact of $96.8 billion.
“This is improving the competitive landscape of the southeastern United States,” Nessen said. “More people are moving to this region of the country, more businesses are becoming attracted to this region, in large part because the port is here.”