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Plastic pellet packagers set to bring more exports through Charleston port

A&R Logistics

The A&R Logistics warehouse along Highway 52 opened this month. The company bags plastic pellets shipped to the site by rail for export to foreign markets through the Port of Charleston. Provided/A&R Logistics

Two huge warehouses that will take trainloads of plastic pellets and package them for export to foreign countries will soon be sending shipments through the Port of Charleston.

Louisville, Ky.-based A&R Logistics recently opened a 615,000-square-foot distribution center at West Branch Commerce Park along U.S. Highway 52 in Moncks Corner. The $60 million structure, which opened ahead of schedule and less than a year after it was announced, is served by CSX-operated rail cars.

Frontier Logistics, which has been operating at Union Pier Terminal in downtown Charleston, is scheduled to open its 550,000-square-foot warehouse in November on the former Navy base in North Charleston. Its $35.5 million distribution center, which Frontier will share with Brazil-based pellet packager Brasken Americas, is also served by CSX as well as rival rail hauler Norfolk Southern.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, said Frontier will leave the SPA's Union Pier site by the end of the year. He said the authority is negotiating with a forest products company to work at that site.

A&R Logistics

The A&R Logistics warehouse along U.S. Highway 52 opened this month. The company bags plastic pellets shipped to the site by rail for export to foreign markets through the Port of Charleston. Provided/A&R Logistics

Together, the facilities will help the authority increase its exports of plastic pellets — also called resins or nurdles — to about 50,000 cargo containers by 2023.

The SPA has been diversifying the cargo imported to Charleston by luring retailers like Walmart to build distribution sites nearby. Those imported containers need to be filled with export cargo after they're unloaded here, and plastic pellets are seen as a key to balancing the incoming and outgoing trade.

Not everyone is happy about the expansion of Charleston-area pellet exports. Environmental groups are suing Frontier, alleging the company is the source of plastic pellets that washed ashore at Sullivan's Island and other beaches. Frontier denies the charge and the case is pending in federal court.

Production of the pea-sized pellets that are the raw material for products like plastic bottles, automobile parts and medical supplies has grown in recent years due to rising consumer demand.

U.S. resin exports increased 6.6 percent to 542,030 containers measured in 20-foot increments during the first seven months of this year, according to a report in the Journal of Commerce. That includes a 32 percent increase in outbound volume from the Port of Mobile in Alabama and a 24 percent increase in Houston, the report stated. 

Most of the pellets are produced from natural gas at Gulf Coast refineries, and ports in that region account for the vast majority of the exports. But some packagers are looking to Charleston and other sites as a hedge against bad weather and transportation tie-ups.

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The two new warehouses will join Mid-States Packaging in North Charleston and A&R Bulkpak in Moncks Corner, which have distribution sites able to handle a combined 22,000 cargo containers.

Volvo S60 sedan

Sales of Volvo's South Carolina-made S60 sedan have been hampered by factory shutdowns due to COVID-19 fears and parts shortages. Provided/Volvo Cars

Pandemic projections

Volvo Cars is hoping to meet its sales forecast for the year, despite the coronavirus pandemic that's hampered global car buying.

Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson told Automotive News Europe that the automaker plans to sell roughly 700,000 vehicles by year's end, nearly matching a record for worldwide sales set in 2019.

"We have a second wave (of COVID-19 inflections) in Europe, which is making the outlook a bit more uncertain," Samuelsson said in a separate interview with Reuters. "For September, we are roughly on the same level as last year. For the rest of the year, I would say our best case is still to be back roughly at where we were last year."

Samuelsson said Volvo has available production capacity in China and at its U.S. plant along Interstate 26 near Ridgeville, where S60 sedans are made. The company's European factories in Torslanda, Sweden, and Ghent, Belgium, are running at full capacity.

Through August, Volvo sold 6,852 S60 models to U.S. customers — a 36 percent decline from  the same period a year ago.

Yard work

A manufacturer of outdoor power equipment including lawn mowers, trimmers and blowers said it plans to locate in Charleston County with a $1.8 million investment that will create 16 jobs.

Daye North America was founded in 2017 as a subsidiary of Ningbo Daye Garden Machinery Co. Daye will locate at the Ladson Industrial Park off U.S 78 in North Charleston. The operation will serve as the company's national distribution center, with hundreds of thousands of products passing through the facility annually. Daye will use the Port of Charleston to handle its imported products.

The distribution center is expected to begin operations in November.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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