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1st woman tapped to lead South Carolina Ports

‘Capacity is the new port currency,’ says outgoing chief during State of the Port address

Barbara Melvin, South Carolina Ports’ chief operating officer, will be promoted to president and CEO effective July 1, 2022, succeeding Jim Newsome, who announced he is retiring after 13 years at the helm. 

Melvin will be the first woman to lead a top-10 U.S. container port, according to the South Carolina Ports Authority. She joined the SCPA in 1998 and was named vice president of operations and terminals in 2015 and COO in 2018. As COO, Melvin oversees daily port operations and leads major infrastructure projects, such as the Charleston Harbor deepening project.

Melvin’s appointment was unanimously approved by the SCPA’s board this month. 

“I am grateful and I am ready,” she said. “With the guidance of our board, the skill and talent of our team, the solid experience within our maritime community and the support of elected, business and community leaders, SC Ports will achieve enhanced growth benefiting the state, region and nation.”

Newsome will continue to serve as an executive adviser to the SCPA, which credited him with significantly enhancing port operations, growing the cargo base with strategic investments, doubling cargo volumes in a decade and undertaking vital infrastructure projects.  

“This past year has been one of my proudest as we have achieved major successes, including Walmart investing in a near-port import distribution center, our handling of record-breaking volumes during a global pandemic and the opening of Leatherman Terminal, the first container terminal to open in the U.S. since 2009,” Newsome said. 

He covered the struggles and successes Monday during his 13th State of the Port Address.

“The significant challenges in the global supply chain present an opportunity for cargo owners to diversify the port gateways they use to move goods,” Newsome said. “SC Ports has the berth availability, cargo capacity and fluidity to handle the record cargo volumes and unprecedented amount of retail imports flowing into the Port of Charleston.” 

Shifts in consumer spending toward retail and home goods during the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a boom in retail imports coming into the U.S., according to the SCPA, which had a record fiscal year 2021 and a record first quarter of fiscal year 2022 for containers handled. 

“Capacity is the new port currency and SC Ports has the right capacity at the right time to meet retailers’ needs to keep freight moving,” Newsome said. “We have invested more than $2 billion in recent years to enhance existing infrastructure and open a new container terminal.”

The $1 billion first phase of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal opened at the end of March. Newsome said the terminal adds a berth and 700,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of capacity to the Port of Charleston “when it is most needed on the East Coast, ensuring speed to market for customers.” 

A project is on track to make Charleston Harbor 52 feet deep next year. SCPA said it will be the deepest harbor on the East Coast and will enable mega container ships to access terminals during any tide. 

An expansion of Inland Port Greer in upstate South Carolina also is underway to enhance cargo capacity and rail infrastructure. 

“We have built smart, strategic infrastructure, putting us in a strong position to handle the influx of cargo as we continue to grow above the market,” Newsome said during the State of the Port address. 

He said retail distribution centers continue to flock to the Charleston region. Walmart is building a $220 million import distribution center in Ridgeville, South Carolina, that is slated to open early next year. The DC will create 1,000 jobs and move goods through the Port of Charleston to support Walmart’s supply chain network throughout the Southeast. 

E. & J. Gallo Winery is investing $423 million to establish an East Coast bottling and distribution plant in Chester County, South Carolina, to move wine and spirits through the Port of Charleston. And Northwest Grains International LLC is building a transload operation in Dillon County, South Carolina, to export agricultural goods through the Port of Charleston via the rail-served Inland Port Dillon.

“Companies with global supply chains want to locate near well-run ports,” Newsome said. “Port growth creates jobs and investments throughout the state. SC Ports generates a $63.4 billion annual economic impact and creates one in 10 jobs in South Carolina.”

SCPA said it continues to “creatively” address supply chain problems plaguing the U.S. and plans to launch its own chassis pool next year with a focus on equipment availability. 

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Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.