Ports & Terminals

Charleston advancing vision as ‘preferred containerport’

On a steady course of success at the South Carolina Ports Authority helm, James I. “Jim” Newsome III is getting plenty of support for realizing the agency’s vision of the Port of Charleston as the nation’s preferred containerport.

Newsome, having just entered his second decade as SCPA president and chief executive officer, got a robust standing ovation today [Monday, Oct. 21] as he closed his 11th annual state of the port address asking the 950-plus luncheon attendees to adopt that vision as their own.

“South Carolina Ports continues to build on our unprecedented growth and exceptional operations,” Newsome said at the event, hosted in North Charleston by the Propeller Club of Charleston.

“The secret to making our port work is the people, and I am immensely proud of the work they do to make us the preferred port in the United States,” said Newsome, who formerly served as president of Hapag-Lloyd (America) Inc. “All that we do is really a team effort.”

While Newsome is quick to share credit with a full spectrum of others, he has, in fact, presided over a 10-year period in which Charleston’s containerized cargo activity has doubled, with calendar 2019 volume estimated to reach the milestone of 2.5 million twenty-foot-equivalent units. Annual growth, at 7.8 percent, has been the best among top 10 U.S. containerports, Newsome said, pointing out that the flourishing volumes have been accommodated with top-performing productivity and accompanied by solid gains on the financial ledger.

James I. “Jim” Newsome III, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, delivers his 11th annual state of the port address today [Oct. 21] at the North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
James I. “Jim” Newsome III, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, delivers his 11th annual state of the port address today [Oct. 21] at the North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)

“We are equipped with an incredibly strong team, a strategy to grow cargo volumes and a plan to increase capacity,” Newsome said. “I know our best days are ahead.”

For the Port of Charleston, meeting future demand depends upon expanding throughput capacity at existing facilities, most notably the 37-year-old Wando Welch Terminal, while advancing new facilities, in particular the Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal being developed on the site of a former U.S. Navy base.

Newsome reported that the $450 million investment in densification of the Wando Welch facility will, by the end of 2020, allow simultaneous berthing of as many as three mega-containerships each with capacity of 14,000 TEUs. The terminal’s annual throughput capacity is to grow by 700,000 TEUs, to 2.4 million TEUs. (The smallest SCPA container facility, the North Charleston Terminal, can handle another 500,000 TEUs a year, and is to become a focus after the Leatherman facility comes online.)

By March 2021, the first megaship berth of the Leatherman Terminal, representing a $986 million investment, is slated to come online, providing 700,000 TEUs of annual throughput capacity, Newsome said. Within a dozen years, with $811.4 million in additional investments, the Leatherman facility is to be built out to be able to handle 2.4 million TEUs a year.

“By 2021, we’ll be able to handle four 14,000-TEU ships at a time in this port,” Newsome said, adding that Charleston also will be the only port in the Southeast able to handle an 18,000-TEU-capacity containership.

At the same time, deepening of Charleston Harbor to 52 feet (and 54 feet along its entrance) is moving in step with schedule, according to Newsome, with 52-foot-depth completion as far as Wando Welch and Leatherman berths by early 2021, making it the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast “until someone else goes deeper.”

Intermodal connections, including through two rail-served inland ports, are moving forward as well, with 24 percent of Charleston’s containerized volumes now heading via the rails. SCPA is looking to bolster its strategic relationships with its Class I partners – CSX and Norfolk Southern – with plans including a new intermodal container transfer facility that could accommodate a future container-on-barge shuttle as well.

Also, longer Charleston container terminal gate hours may be in the cards. And Newsome said he sees consolidation of services under a single-stevedore model “hopefully early next year,” leading to optimized efficiencies.

SCPA is looking even further into the future with plans into the 2030s for joint development with Georgia Ports Authority of an all-new container facility, with an annual throughput capability of 7 million TEUs, along the Savannah River in South Carolina’s Jasper County.

“We are in the best place to be in the containerport industry,” Newsome said, citing a doubling of U.S. Southeast population over the past 50 years, plus a solid manufacturing base.

Newsome said the doubling of SCPA container volume over the past decade has taken place on the back of manufacturing but sustained growth also will depend upon heightened import-export distribution activity, including through a 950-acre, SCPA-owned near-inland industrial campus site ideal for big-box importers. Transloading of plastic resins is among export-related activities being targeted.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster preceded Newsome to the podium, saying, “There’s not a finer CEO of any port in the United States than Jim Newsome.

“We have the finest port in the United States, and it’s getting stronger,” continued McMaster, who issued a proclamation commemorating South Carolina Ports Week, also to a standing ovation. “I don’t see anywhere where the grass is greener than here in Charleston and the state of South Carolina.”

In his address, Newsome previewed a new study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business placing SCPA’s annual economic impacts in the Palmetto State at $63.4 billion, with 224,963 South Carolina jobs directly or indirectly tied to port activities. Details of the study are to be reported Tuesday at the 46th annual South Carolina International Trade Conference.

Newsome delivered his state of the port presentation at the North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center, about a dozen miles from Wando Welch Terminal gates and even closer to the Leatherman Terminal site, before heading to the Charleston Gaillard Center in the city’s historic downtown for the trade conference, which is to conclude Wednesday.

Watch AJOT Insights tomorrow for a report from the conference. Comprehensive coverage of all the Charleston events, including reception photos, is slated to appear in the Nov. 11 print edition of AJOT.

Paul Scott Abbott
Paul Scott Abbott


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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist.

A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists.

Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.

A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.


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