Cargo gain keeps Port of Charleston on record pace

The setting sun silhouettes container cranes at the State Ports Authority’s Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. The International Longshoremen's Association says state employees who operate the cranes are taking jobs from union members.

A 3.6 percent increase in the number of cargo containers moving through the Port of Charleston in August puts the State Ports Authority on track for a record-breaking year in fiscal 2016 after just missing the mark last year.

With 96,559 cargo boxes moved in August, the SPA is on a pace to surpass the record 1.134 million cargo containers moved during 2005. The maritime agency moved 1.095 million cargo boxes in its last fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The August numbers were the highest ever recorded at the port for that month.

All told, the SPA has moved 195,703 cargo containers in the first two months of this fiscal year — an 8 percent gain over last year.

“It’s been a good start to the year,” Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO, said of the August numbers, which were up despite economic uncertainty in China, which is the Port of Charleston’s largest trading partner. Newsome said he isn’t sure what impact a prolonged Chinese downturn could have.

“Anecdotally, some of our major customers are not shipping as much as they were,” Newsome said. “I don’t know if that’s short term. No one really knows what’s going on in China, but there are plenty of opportunities to grow our business. We have to stay focused on our plan and the economy will take care of itself.”

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Newsome said he expects ports in the Southeast, including Charleston, will continue to outpace the U.S. port industry as a whole. Charleston’s port has grown roughly double the national average in recent years.

The SPA’s Inland Port in Greer, a rail-served cargo hub for Upstate manufacturers such as automaker BMW, moved more than 10,000 cargo boxes in August on its way to an annual goal of 100,000 for the first time since the facility opened in December 2013.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_