Lowcountry residents benefit in myriad ways from living in a coastal city, but one aspect of life on the water that many fail to notice is the massive economic engine of the Charleston Harbor. As the South Carolina Ports Authority celebrates its 75th year, local ports are bringing more products to the state and exporting more goods from manufacturers here than ever before. And it’s only going to grow.
Future economic activity through the ports is expected to continue its ascent with improvements to the terminals, the construction of a new Leatherman terminal at the Navy Base, harbor deepening that will welcome the massive cargo ships now passing through the larger Panama Canal, the success of the “inland port” in Greer and development of a similar facility in Dillon.
The port’s benefits reverberate throughout the state, allowing large manufacturing operations to relocate to South Carolina because of their proximity to the ports and easy access to both their supply chain and customers worldwide. Large employers like BMW, Michelin, Volvo, Sonoco and International Paper, and dozens of smaller companies, have publicly identified the ports as major factors in their decision to build or expand in South Carolina. A study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business estimates that $53 billion of economic impact and 187,000 jobs are tied to the existence of the ports. Port jobs pay 40 percent more than average area wages.
Entry by sea to Charleston dates to 1670 when the first English settlers arrived in Charles Town but it wasn’t until 1942 that the state created the quasi-public Ports Authority to regulate shipping into and out of the harbor during WWII. Within six years Charleston became the nation’s 14th busiest port. In 1981, the Ports Authority opened the Wando terminal in Mount Pleasant, now the busiest of the Charleston port terminals.
As the amount of cargo moving in and out of the ports sets new records every year, huge developments are on the horizon. South Carolina Ports Authority has begun construction of the Leatherman Terminal on the former Navy Base in North Charleston that will increase its container cargo capacity by 50 percent, serving the big ships visiting East Coast ports today. The first phase, to be completed by 2020, will add the ability to handle post-Panamax ships, those new behemoths capable of carrying massive loads. A project to deepen the Charleston harbor to 52 feet, the deepest harbor on the East Coast, has made way for these huge deliveries.
South Carolina Ports Authority is also modernizing its existing terminals with new technology, bigger cranes and improved infrastructure to be big-ship ready for years to come.
“It’s imperative that we improve existing port infrastructure, add capacity for growth and deepen our harbor in order to handle bigger ships and remain competitive as a top 10 U.S. container port,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority.
The SCPA has spent three-quarters of a century spurring economic growth for the state of South Carolina, and is ready to accelerate during the next quarter century.