The threat of a dock strike slowed container volume at the State Ports Authority in January, but not enough to pull its business underwater for the month.
The State Ports Authority plans to break ground on its “inland port” in the Upstate next week. The event is scheduled for March 1 near Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. The $33 million project was announced in July. It will be used a hub for the movement of shipping containers by rail to and from the Port of Charleston.The SPA will spend up to $25 million, and Norfolk Southern will invest about $7.5 million to install the rail infrastructure for the facility, which is being created to serve the nearby BMW plant. The automaker is expected to move 20,000 to 25,000 containers of parts a year through the inland port.
A recently resolved dispute between the East Coast longshoremen’s union and a group representing ship owners raised concerns about a labor walkout at the Port of Charleston and other ports. That prompted some customers to speed up the shipment of their goods ahead of the strike deadline.
“We said in the last meeting that January would be a bit on the dubious side,” said Jim Newsome, chief executive officer of the SPA. “We had more volume in December, and that translated into weaker volume in the first two weeks of January.”
Even so, volume did not decline. It was 7.7 percent higher last month compared to the same period a year ago, with the maritime agency handling the equivalent of 121,286 20-foot-long containers. Volume for the first seven months of the fiscal year increased more than 11 percent to 892,487 units.
Operating revenue for the fiscal year was $79 million, better than $75.3 million a year ago, but 6.6 percent below plan for the first seven months of the agency’s fiscal year, the SPA reported at its monthly board of directors meeting on Tuesday.
The port’s biggest gains have been coming from noncontainerized “break bulk” cargo, such as automobiles, power-generation equipment and industrial-sized tires. Pier tons, the measurement for such goods, are up more than 50 percent compared to the SPA’s prior fiscal year and 28 percent above projections.
Newsome said the break-bulk business is a “very lucrative” and growing segment of shipping. The SPA said it recently began handling wired coil shipments at its Union Pier terminal in downtown Charleston.
He also noted on Tuesday that there could be some growing pains on the horizon due to growing demand for ship-side warehouse facilities at Union Pier and Columbus Street Terminal.
“We have more demand for our facilities than we have facilities, and I call that a high-class problem,” he said.
Newsome added that there could be future plans to add facilities to Veterans Terminal on the former Navy base in North Charleston.
Newsome also told the board that SPA is poised to see more growth in agriculture goods. One example is Omaha, Neb-based Millard Refrigerated Services recently announced plans to invest $42 million and create 87 jobs at a cold-storage distribution center it will build this year in North Charleston.
The company will use its Palmetto Commerce Park warehouse to freeze and store poultry, pork and beef products that will be shipped overseas to places like Russia, southeast Asia and Africa.