March 9, 2013
The new inland port that is under construction in Greer clearly demonstrates how important this region is to the Port of Charleston, and it is likely to pay dividends for Upstate South Carolina rather quickly.
Some anecdotal evidence that proves the benefit this facility will have on our state economy was apparent recently when ground was broken on the $35 million facility that will open Sept. 1. For instance, representatives were present at the groundbreaking from companies that have an interest in South Carolina, or at least in moving goods through the inland port. That interest could lead to more manufacturing jobs in the region, specifically in the Upstate. Those could wind up being jobs that were destined for elsewhere in the state or region but will come here instead.
The inland port is essentially an intermodal facility that will let shippers transfer goods from truck to rail or vice versa. It will include a daily rail shuttle on the 200-plus mile route to and from the Port of Charleston.
In the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham, who attended the groundbreaking: “This new Inland Port will dramatically expand the economic ties between the Upstate and Lowcountry, creating greater efficiencies for Upstate businesses getting their goods to market,” he said, according to a news release. “I commend (Ports Authority CEO) Jim Newsome and the State Ports Authority for their vision, as this investment will help grow our economy and create jobs.”
Access to the Port of Charleston is essential for manufacturers. Having direct access to that port via that daily rail shuttle to Charleston and back makes that essential access more convenient for manufacturers that could open new markets. The CEO of the company from Illinois that is developing the inland port for the South Carolina State Ports Authority said such facilities essentially bring waterfront access inland.
“This is really a part of the port even though it’s 200 miles away,” Paul Fisher of CenterPoint Properties of Oak Brook, Ill., told The News. “So that’s a very innovative concept, essentially when you’re out of waterfront to build new waterfront.”
Fisher’s company also will develop 750,000 square feet of warehouse space next to the inland port, according to the newspaper.
One company that’s intrigued by the inland port is a Chinese firm that is looking to put a facility in the United States, according to a report in The Greenville News. Representatives from that unnamed company accompanied John Ling, who runs the state Commerce Department’s Shanghai office, to the groundbreaking.
The inland project will take semi trucks off the I-385/26 corridor from Greenville to Charleston; and it makes getting goods from here to port substantially easier, cheaper and safer. The port will be on a main line of the Norfolk Southern railroad right beside Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.
The Port of Charleston is vital to Upstate South Carolina employers, and this project demonstrates that officials at the State Ports Authority are keenly aware of the symbiotic relationship that exists between this region and the port. The Upstate already is home to the largest concentration of port users in South Carolina, according to a news release from the State Ports Authority. Consider that about $5.3 billion in wages are generated every year by port-related jobs in the Upstate; or that more than two-thirds of the Upstate’s manufacturing employees work for companies that ship products to other countries. Major Upstate employers such as BMW, Michelin and General Electric are among the port’s biggest customers.
Certainly those existing manufacturers will benefit from the inland port. (BMW alone is expected to shop between 20,000 and 25,000 containers annually via the inland port and its associated rail line.) But other manufacturers will be drawn to the facility, as well.
The location of the Greer facility — roughly halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte and in the heart of the Upstate manufacturing center — will provide port access to more than 94 million consumers that are within one-day’s drive, the Ports Authority said.
Government and economic development leaders have long recognized the importance of the port to the Upstate market. That relationship emphasizes why Upstate lawmakers were so vital to the effort to fund the deepening of Charleston Harbor. It’s also one of the reasons that this rare type of facility is being located in the heart of the Upstate.
This public-private partnership is a sound investment of resources in the economic future of South Carolina. It has the potential to help fuel a manufacturing resurgence in the region, particularly when grouped with other significant port investment that is coming — not least of which is the expected deepening of Charleston Harbor to accommodate the new “post-Panamax” ships that are expected to proliferate on the East Coast in coming years.
With this investment, the Ports Authority is giving Upstate South Carolina a needed shot in the arm at a time when manufacturing in the United States, and manufacturing in South Carolina, are poised for an expansion.