Posted on November 10, 2020
This year, Jim Newsome, CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), formally delivered his 12th State of the Port Address — to an empty boardroom.
On Oct. 28, participants could attend the first live broadcast of the speech which featured Newsome’s summary of the year’s events, projections for the future, and key speakers commenting on port activity who joined the meeting via Zoom. The virtual event was hosted by the Propeller Club of Charleston.
South Carolina ports serve as an economic powerhouse, creating one in 10 jobs statewide with pay that is 32% percent higher than the average wage. Annually, port operations generate $63.4 billion for the state.
“We are seeing a good recovery from the pandemic, and I’m very optimistic about the future. Our best years are ahead of us. Our goal is to be the preferred port of the top 10 U.S. container ports, and we deliver on that every day,” Newsome commented.
Despite challenges in 2020, the port focused on investing in infrastructure. The Wando Welch Terminal, now approaching its 40th year in operation, will add 15 ship-to-shore cranes with 155 feet of lift height, 65 rubber-tired gantry cranes, a strong wharf to handle large ships, an updated refrigerated container yard, and new terminal software for operations. A key objective across operations is business simplification to strive for gains in efficiency.
Phase One of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal is slated to open in March with a 1,400-foot wharf, five ship-to-shore cranes with 169 feet of lift height, 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes, an expansive container yard, and state-of-the art, technology driven operations. It’s been designed to handle growing cargo volumes. The opening of the terminal will be the country’s first new container terminal in a decade.
“Bringing a new facility like this to the area is like building a city,” said Barbara Melvin, COO of SCPA.
A significant harbor deepening project is underway and is being led by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, reported Lt. Col. Rachel Honderd, Charleston District Commander. There are five dredging contracts with completion dates ranging from March 2021 to July 2022. When completed, the harbor will be 52 feet deep with enhanced entrance channels and turning basins. As the deepest port on the East Coast, port terminals will be accessible to mega container ships without tidal restrictions.
Another major project in the works is the addition of a Walmart import distribution center in Ridgeville, which will boost port volumes by 5% while creating 1,000 new jobs. Newsome remarked, “This is a game-changer for the port. It is a signal to major retailers that we’re prepared to be a force in retail distribution, and we can handle the requirements. Walmart is at the cutting edge of the supply chain, and their confidence in us speaks volumes.”
The port also will focus on the increased demand for handling refrigerated and frozen cargo by likely expanding existing facilities to accommodate more cold storage.
SCPA is also working on a long-term contract with Carnival Cruise Line with the hope of seeing cruise operations back in 2021. Building a terminal to host increased cruise ship traffic is seen as an investment to provide a good operating cash flow.