Inland port opens Monday in the Upstate

An aerial view of the State Ports Authority’s inland port.

It’s an idea that’s been kicked around for years, and it will get a chance to prove itself starting this week.

By the numbers

What: Inland port

Cost: $46.5 million

Staff: 13 SPA employees

Size: 100 acres with 40 acres developed for use

Capacity: It’s projected to handle 40,000 containers in year one. It has the potential to handle 100,000 a year.

Source: State Ports Authority

The State Ports Authority’s newest terminal opens Monday in Spartanburg County, far from the Charleston waterfront. The hope is that the so-called inland port will boost commerce in the state’s industrial Upstate region while also increasing the maritime agency’s market share in the Southeast.

Inland bound

How cargo will get from the Port of Charleston to the inland port:

Containerized cargo is discharged from a vessel.

Trucks transport containers to the Norfolk Southern rail yard in North Charleston.

Ccontainers are processed and placed on rail cars, which make the 200-mile trek to Greer overnight.

The containers are off-loaded in Greer by a small crane and stacked. Trucks then transport them to their final destinations.

Source: State Ports Authority

“The port is a key piece in the economic development puzzle, and the inland port in Greer is a great addition to our state’s logistics network,” said S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. “The Upstate in particular has a high concentration of companies that are heavy exporters. This facility will help streamline their supply chains and encourage additional growth and investment.”

Cargo flow

A sample of the goods that will pass through the SPA’s inland port:

BMW sports utility vehicles

Rubber to produce tires




Furniture made in western North Carolina

Inland bound

How cargo will get from the Port of Charleston to the inland port:

Containerized cargo is discharged from a vessel.

Trucks transport containers to the Norfolk Southern rail yard in North Charleston.

Ccontainers are processed and placed on rail cars, which make the 200-mile trek to Greer overnight.

The containers are off-loaded in Greer by a small crane and stacked. Trucks then transport them to their final destinations.

Source: State Ports Authority

Gov. Nikki Haley said the inland port sends a message to businesses about South Carolina’s ability to adapt and innovate.

“It shows that the state is moving,” Haley said after an event at Trident Technical College last week. “That’s the biggest benefit.”

The SPA broke ground March 1 on the 100-acre facility, where shipping containers will be transferred between trucks and Norfolk Southern rail cars running to and from Charleston. Officials have estimated that it will handle about 40,000 boxes in its first year.

The $46.5 million project is one of several inland ports sprouting up throughout the nation in recent years.

Just a few months ago, the Georgia Ports Authority announced expansion of its 40-acre inland port in Cordele, a city along the Interstate 75 corridor and about 70 miles south of Macon.

Elsewhere in the Southeast, the North Carolina Ports Authority has an inland port in Charlotte. The Virginia Ports Authority partnered with Norfolk Southern to offer a double-stack rail service between intermodal terminals in Norfolk, Va., and Greensboro, N.C.

Industry experts say the intermodal phenomenon is being driven by the escalating costs associated with the transport of goods from docks.

A mid-2012 study by Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate services firm, said the trend is tied to rising costs of fueling up big trucks, which typically haul most cargo that comes in or goes out of the country by ship.

“This has led to a new dependence on inland ports whose arterial connections to seaports are real lines,” according to the report. “And the cost savings incorporating rail intermodal traffic into a supply chain can be substantial: (Rail) costs per container average one-third the cost of freight trucking.”

Logistics experts have said inland ports can open up and expand supply chains. One example is an intermodal terminal Norfolk Southern is building in Charlotte that will provide another option for shippers of Greer-bound cargo.

Fueling growth

The SPA’s inland port is expected to propel business around its geographical footprint, not far from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and the BMW North America manufacturing plant.

For example, G&P Trucking announced plans earlier this year to acquire a 10-acre site near the inland port.

That was followed by automaker BMW saying it is building a new export center nearby. The 413,000-square-foot structure is expected to open in January. The company can add another 337,000 square feet of covered space onto the building if needed, officials said.

“The opening of South Carolina’s inland port is to be celebrated throughout the state,” BMW spokeswoman Sky Foster said in an email. “Extending the port’s presence inland close to major export customers, like BMW, will greatly increase efficiency and access for container movement.”

BMW exported 301,519 vehicles from its Greer plant in 2012, shipping many of those through the Port of Charleston. The company plans to increase annual capacity to 350,000 by end of 2014, Foster has said.

Greenville-Spartanburg Airport recently launched a website marketing development opportunities for roughly 2,000 acres.

Reno Deaton, executive director of the Greer Development Corp., a nonprofit that promotes economic development in the area, said his group is crafting a marketing plan to capitalize off the SPA-Norfolk Southern investment.

“We continue to evaluate how to make the best use of this asset to the community,” he said.

Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and chief executive officer, said the Upstate facility could also one day create the need for a smaller intermodal facility between Charleston and Greer.

“We will be more dependent over time on rail to move cargo to and from ports,” he said last week. “We are going to do things we never thought possible in a traditional sense. I see there could be a rail shuttle service from an Orangeburg location or something like that.”

Plans were floated years ago for an inland port in Orangeburg County, near interstates 26 and 95. That concept, however, never came to fruition.

Looking inland

The SPA itself had considered developing its own inland terminal at various times since at least 1982, the year the land was purchased.

This was the year it finally took off. Crews broke ground for the facility in March with plans to open in early September.

Those plans, however, faced some setbacks due to a lawsuit to evict a tenant on the site and more than two months of rain, adding to the cost of the project.

In May, the SPA board of directors approved an additional $12.9 million for the development, or roughly 50 percent more than the original estimate of $33.6 million. Of that, $26.1 million comes from SPA and a maximum of $7.5 million paid by Norfolk Southern.

Newsome said last week that the project is worth the cost, adding that its success is measured by factors such as volume and new business.

“We think in the long-term this will be a catalyst of how distribution is done in this state,” Newsome said.

The project enhances the state’s logistics structure and could make South Carolina more competitive for attracting businesses that need to move goods over long distances, one expert said.

“It gives another level to get goods into the supply chain, and that’s going to be huge,” said Scott J. Mason, a professor of supply chain optimization and logistics at Clemson University.

Newsome points to an added plus: He and the SPA expect the inland port to alleviate some congestion on Interstate 26 and reduce truck emissions.

“We have to find innovative solutions to logistics challenges and this falls under that category, creating a positive solution and a captive cargo base for the port,” Newsome said.

The project also was lauded by groups like the Coastal Conservation League, which has blasted the port on other issues.

“It’s a very positive development,” said Dana Beach, executive director of the Charleston-based environmental watchdog group. “The idea of promoting a truly multiple modal system statewide is key to us succeeding economically and environmentally.”

As for trucking companies, they aren’t overly concerned about the inland terminal cutting too much into their business because big rigs will continue to be a key piece of the port puzzle in Charleston as well as in Greer.

“There is a ton of traffic that will have to move by highway due to the nature of the freight and the customer demands,” said Rick Todd, president of the S.C. Trucking Association.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.

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