A major player in trucking along the South Atlantic has opened a Mount Pleasant office.

Howard Sheppard, a family business is based in the Georgia clay belt, plans to grow a 50-truck operation off Long Point Road during the next few months, according to Mitch Sheppard, vice president.

The company specializes in handling refrigerated cargo.

Until recently, South Carolina's 90,000-pound limit on trucks put South Carolina at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states when it came to "reefer" loads, as refrigerated freight is called in the transportation industry.

Sheppard said the recent overweight permitting pilot program --which grants 100,000 pounds to trucks carrying 40-foot refrigerated containers -- helped attract his company to the region.

Plus, Sheppard said, "We saw how serious Charleston was about growing reefer business."

The State Ports Authority's refrigerated cargo business has doubled this year, according to agency spokesman Byron Miller. About half of that cargo takes advantage of South Carolina's new weight permits.

Miller said Howard Sheppard's decision to open an operation near the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant adds a respected corporation to the region's roster of 100 or more existing trucking companies and agents.

"Having them here will bring additional strength to the large and diverse transportation community we have," Miller said. "We know they'll bring new business to the port, because they have contracts with major companies."

Howard Sheppard launched in Sandersville, Ga., in 1943 exporting kaolin, a white clay found naturally in Georgia and used in making paper and ceramics. Already an important presence at rival port Savannah, Ga., the company hires both direct employees and contract drivers.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or abird@postandcourier.com.