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Port of Charleston importing more consumer goods ‘than ever before’

CEO Newsome says strategic infrastructure investments readied South Carolina Ports for influx

The South Carolina Ports Authority largely has escaped the national mainstream media glare on U.S. port congestion. According to SCPA President and CEO Jim Newsome, that’s because the supply chain is not clogged at the Port of Charleston.

“The Port of Charleston is handling more retail goods, home goods, furniture, appliances and electronics than ever before,” Newsome said in a statement Tuesday. “While the global supply chain remains under tremendous pressure, SC Ports is fortunate to have invested in the right port infrastructure at the right time. We have the cargo capacity, berth availability and terminal fluidity that retailers need to quickly move their cargo as we head into the peak season.”

In fact, the Port of Charleston achieved a record September, moving 205,008 twenty-foot equivalent units at the Wando Welch, North Charleston and Hugh K. Leatherman terminals. In addition to a record September, the TEU total was a 5% increase year-over-year.

Containers did move at the Leatherman Terminal, although in far fewer numbers than the other Port of Charleston facilities. The Leatherman Terminal, which opened in early April, has been the subject of a labor dispute with the International Longshoremen’s Association, but a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled in September that SCPA cannot be forced to use union workers there. 

SCPA said pier containers — boxes of any size — at the three terminals totaled 113,486 in September. Of those, 83,323 were handled at Wando Welch, 19,302 at North Charleston and 10,861 at Leatherman. 

The judge’s ruling could be appealed, and traffic at the Leatherman Terminal remains much lower than at the other facilities in October. According to SCPA data on Tuesday, only two vessels were handled at the Leatherman Terminal over the past 10 days. 

Further breaking out port numbers, loaded imports at all terminals set a September record with 98,208 TEUs, a 9% increase from the same month last year. Loaded exports were up 2% year-over-year to 61,705 TEUs. 

Although SCPA’s press release did not include the figures for empty containers, port data showed empty imports in September were down from 5,653 TEUs in 2020 to 2,943 TEUs this year. The number of empty containers exported was up from 38,804 TEUs in September 2020 to 42,152 TEUs this year.

The Port of Charleston consistently has been setting monthly volume records. “South Carolina Ports had a record May for containers handled at the Port of Charleston, marking the third consecutive month of record volume,” a spring report said. Records also were set in June and July. Although not a record month, August volumes were up 12% year-over-year. 

This week, the ports authority said Inland Port Greer also handled a record amount of cargo in September with 13,064 rail moves, up from 12,994 last year. Inland Port Dillon reported 2,133 rail moves, down from 3,108 in September 2020.

SCPA said the rail-served inland ports extend the Port of Charleston’s reach and enable the swift movement of cargo throughout the Southeast and Midwest.

“As the slowdown in cargo velocity is felt throughout the global supply chain, SC Ports remains focused on providing customized solutions and efficient operations to keep freight moving,” Newsome said. “By investing more than $2 billion in port infrastructure in recent years, we have the capacity to handle the influx of imports we are seeing today.”

Earlier this month, Newsome was recognized for enhancing port operations and growing the cargo base with those strategic investments when he was inducted into the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey’s International Maritime Hall of Fame.

Newsome has served at the helm of SCPA since 2009. Prior to that, he was the president of Hapag-Lloyd (America) Inc.  

“Jim has dedicated his time and talents to ensuring that SC Ports continues to grow above the market. He has truly made a significant and lasting impact on South Carolina’s economy and supply chain. We all benefit greatly from his leadership,” said SC Ports Board Chairman Bill Stern.

Other honors include the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Tennessee, Newsome’s alma mater; the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance’s Roger Milliken Defender of Manufacturing Award; and the Containerization and Intermodal Institute’s Connie Award.

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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.