Charleston-area exports grow Reports show busy S.C., Ga. ports

Shipping container volume, the main source of revenue for the Port of Charleston, was up nearly 20 percent last month. (Staff/File)

Several freshly released independent reports show that rising exports are boosting business in greater Charleston area, and at ports in South Carolina and neighboring Georgia.

U.S. exports increased 8.5 percent to $2.3 billion in the Charleston metropolitan area from 2010 to 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

“These export numbers show that selling internationally has become a much more viable option for many South Carolina businesses,” said Phil Minard, manager of the U.S. Commercial Service in Charleston. “In many cases, the Internet, ease of transportation, and array of available export services has reduced the distance between exporter and importer to a click on a desktop.”

The report, which is based upon where the export goods were produced, said the greater Charleston area accounts for just under 10 percent of South Carolina’s international exports and ranks among major metropolitan area exporters of chemicals, computer and electronic products, non-electrical machinery, paper and primary metal.

Those top-five categories of goods accounted for nearly $1.7 billion of the reported exports from the area in 2011, when Charleston moved up to the 88th largest U.S. export market, from 83rd in 2010.

Many South Carolina exports, such as tires produced at several Upstate planes and automobiles made by BMW in Greer, would not be counted as Charleston-area exports by the Commerce Department, but they would contribute to the growing cargo volume reported at the Port of Charleston.

At ports in South Carolina and Georgia, increasing cargo volume shows that export growth continued into 2012. Both states saw a brisk increase in year-over-year business in August, the respective ports authorities said this week.

Shipping container volume, which is the main source of port revenues, increased 19.3 percent at the Port of Charleston and nearly 14 percent at the Port of Savannah, compared to August 2011.

“We continue to focus on growing our cargo base, as reflected in strong gains in loaded exports, while we also increase service coverage in our port,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the S.C. State Ports Authority.

Ports also saw sharp increases in noncontainerized cargo, such as bulk products, automobiles and heavy machinery.

“Heavy machinery customers such as JCB, Caterpillar and John Deere are experiencing healthy demand in markets such as Australia and the Middle East, while the more than 20 auto makers who use Georgia Ports Authority services are doing brisk business in Europe,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Peach State’s port system.

In Charleston, container volume remains well below pre-recession levels, but August was the strongest month since October 2008 and the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

In Savannah, August marked the second-highest container volume recorded at the port, which moves roughly double the container volume of Charleston.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.