March 1, 2013
A freight-handling facility planned by the South Carolina State Ports Authority in Greer is already spurring warehouse development.
Officials with Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport say they’ll lease 45 acres of land next to the South Carolina Inland Port site to a national developer of intermodal centers, CenterPoint Properties of Oak Brook, Ill., which plans to develop up to 750,000 square feet of warehouse space on the property for an undisclosed user.
Paul Fisher, CenterPoint’s chief executive, declined to identify the company that would use the warehouse space, and Josef Kerscher, president of BMW Manufacturing Co., whose massive car factory is close to the site, said it was too early for him to comment on the matter.
Both executives were among the dignitaries attending a groundbreaking ceremony for the $35 million inland port on Friday.
It’s planned along a main line of the Norfolk Southern railroad and right next to GSP, where FedEx Express and UPS provide daily air freight service. It will be a stone’s throw from Interstate 85 and just a little farther away from Interstate 26.
Port officials say it will provide overnight delivery of shipping containers via rail to and from the port of Charleston 212 miles away.
Also on hand for Friday’s ceremony were Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and numerous state lawmakers and other state and local officials.
Fisher said he expects his company will build “a lot more” than 750,000 square feet of warehouse space at the inland port, which is scheduled to open Sept. 1 on 80 acres along the J. Verne Smith Parkway.
“I think a lot of businesses want to be in South Carolina,” the executive from Chicago said.
Fisher said a facility like the inland port – an inland intermodal center operated by a port and connected to a port via rail shuttle – is unusual.
“This is really part of the port even though it’s 200 miles away,” he said. “So that’s a very innovative concept essentially when you’re out of waterfront to build new waterfront inland.
“So it opens up this area around Greer for essentially on-dock industrial and distribution construction. And you know they’re not making any more waterfront property, which essentially you have in doing this facility. So a shuttle operation owned by a port is in fact a new business model and it’s a very exciting one.”
Port and economic development officials say they have gotten inquiries from numerous companies and developers besides CenterPoint since plans for the inland port were announced in July.
John Ling, who runs the state Commerce Department’s office in Shanghai, said he came to the ceremony with an economic development prospect that he wasn’t at liberty to identify. The Chinese manufacturer is planning a factory in the United States to better serve its customers, he said.
Ling said manufacturing in the United States is becoming a better alternative than manufacturing in China in many cases for products sold in the United States.
Graham told about 200 people gathered under a white tent that the inland port would connect South Carolina’s two economic engines – the Interstate 85 corridor and the port of Charleston.
Extensive business ties already exist between the port and big Upstate manufacturers that import materials and/or export product, including BMW, Michelin North America and General Electric Co. The inland port is part of $2 billion worth of improvements planned by the Ports Authority over a decade.
Other projects include a new terminal at the port of Charleston, a container staging yard in North Charleston served by two railroads, and the deepening of Charleston Harbor to 50 feet in order to accommodate megaship traffic expected from a widening of the Panama Canal.
Allison Skipper, spokesperson for the Ports Authority, said it plans to finance all of the improvements through its own revenues, except for $700 million set aside by the state of South Carolina, which hopes to be reimbursed $120 million by the federal government.
Graham, however, confirmed that the automatic federal spending cuts that kicked in Friday in a process known as “sequestration” threaten the harbor-deepening project, which is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The sequestration “affects everything in the sense that the federal government doesn’t have a vision to move forward,” Graham told reporters at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“So we’re not going to deepen Charleston’s harbor without helping other people. There will be no solution to Charleston unless other places in the country are covered,” he said.
Still, Graham said he was optimistic “that out of this mess is going to come a big deal that not only will lead to infrastructure projects being a reality but getting the cost curve bent on entitlements and flattening the tax code.”