Carrier opens its new office

The Mediterranean Shipping Co. celebrates a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new headquarters in Mount Pleasant on Wednesday.

The ribbon cutting at Mediterranean Shipping Co.'s new Mount Pleasant office Wednesday ran more like a comedy hour with a flag theme.

A van with "Follow Me to Italy" lettering and a giant cone of gelato on top sat in the parking lot, as opera music floated out of the ornate yellow building.

Opening the ceremony to hundreds of guests, company Vice President Sergio Fedelini deadpanned, "Unfortunately not everybody can have a seat, because we only have about 15 seats."

The 45,000-square-foot structure off Bowman Road is an exact replica MSC's old office on Long Point Road, only a lot bigger. Fedelini and his wife helped design the original building, which he describes as a blend of Italy and the South, with its warm color and white Doric columns.

Fedelini came to Charleston in 1993 to operate an office of only three people. MSC expanded to 25 people when it opened the old Mount Pleasant office in 1999 and employs about 225 at the current location. Fedelini hopes to double that number, maybe even surpass the company's U.S. headquarters in New York.

The new site, valued at about $7 million, will oversee Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla., operations.

"MSC container operations in

Charleston are going to grow. The MSC office in Mount Pleasant is going to grow," Fedelini said. "MSC is proud to contribute to the economic growth of the state of South Carolina during the tough economic times."

Welcoming the crowd, he pulled out the red and white flag of Genoa, Italy. "We are a shipping company. We like flags," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. I always carry a flag."

MSC's president, Claudio Bozzo, who apologized for showing up without a flag, encouraged the audience to "look at the messages behind the beauty" in the new building. He said the building's yellow color represents the "sunshine" of job security, while the flag pole illustrates the friendship between Italy and the U.S.

"You're going to find a lot of empty spaces around," Bozzo said. "These are good empty spaces."

He said those areas represent not the difficult economy but rather the plans to expand. Bozzo said MSC, the world's second-largest container carrier behind Maersk Line, posted positive numbers for the first two months of 2009.

State Ports Authority interim Chief Executive Officer John Hassell presented Fedelini with a South Carolina flag that flew over the statehouse in Columbia the day MSC's new building unofficially opened in November.

As Hassell showed framed verifications, Bozzo chimed in, "We believe you, John. Don't worry about it."

Hassell said the SPA "couldn't have a better partner or friend than MSC." The port's second biggest customer, MSC cuts a dramatically different path from top customer Maersk. The Danish company announced it would depart Charleston by the end of 2010, though negotiations remain active.

Joking about being prepared with gifts, Bozzo swiped Fedelini's Genoa flag and presented it to Hassell.

Then other dignitaries took the podium to offer MSC thanks and, from the state Department of Commerce, yet another flag.