Polk commissioners hear about South Carolina Inland Port

Published 10:00 pm Sunday, August 31, 2014

by Leah Justice
Just before the Polk County Board of Commissioners approved a new economic development plan and strategy last week, it heard from South Carolina’s Inland Port Senior Vice President of Economic Development and Projects Jack Ellenberg.
Commissioners met Aug. 18 and had an open discussion with Ellenberg about the South Carolina’s inland ports, specifically in Charleston.
Ellenberg said the port is an enterprise agency and is the ninth largest U.S. container port with one in 10 jobs in South Carolina being port related. He said the port has a nearly $50 billion annual economic output for the state.
The Port of Charleston has two container terminals and three non-container terminals and since there’s not a lot of land, they started looking inland towards Greer, Ellenberg said.
Ellenberg said Charleston is the fastest growing port in the United States with the other area ports being in Savannah, Ga., Jacksonville, Florida and Wilmington. Of those ports, Charleston captures 74 percent of all cargo, Ellenberg said.
The Charleston port handles all of BMW cargo with the largest cargo being from agriculture and plastics, he said.
Ellenberg said the port is focused on growth of imports, with more people moving to the southeast than are moving out. Statistics are that the population in the southeast will grow by 46 percent, he said, with the two largest footprints in the southeast being Atlanta and Charlotte.
Ellenberg said the growth of the railway remains important because everything can’t be done by truck. The Charleston Port averages a 22-minute truck turn time, which places them the top three in the world for turn time.
The inland port in Greer is 212 miles from Charleston and is in partnership with Norfolk Southern Railroad. Ellenberg said it’s on I-85 halfway between Charlotte and Atlanta and serves North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia as well as being in close proximity to the airport.
Ellenberg said there is a lot of momentum directly from Charleston and that momentum is going to continue on to the inland.
“This part of North Carolina is very important to us,” said Ellenberg. “And the link to Greer is going to be absolutely critical moving forward.”
Ellenberg took questions from the audience, including who handles security concerns at the port.
Ellenberg said they have the National Guard since it’s part of the federal system as well as having its own police force.
Another question was how does the port ship to Chattanooga, Tenn. Ellenberg said it depends on how they want to ship it. It can be shipped by rail or by truck. Ellenberg said Adidas imports 25,000 containers and they don’t export anything. About 51 percent of the port’s business is export driven, Ellenberg said.
One audience member asked what recommendations Ellenberg has for counties such as Polk to position itself to reap benefits from the port.
Ellenberg said a company in Polk County being located 35 miles from Greer can sell themselves as being in an international location because they have that access.
“And you should be selling that,” Ellenberg said.
Ellenberg said at the end of the day he wants the cargo so he will be there to support North Carolina’s efforts.
“Know if you need our assistance we’ll be happy to help,” he said.
Another question was about the number of jobs and whether they are high paying. Ellenberg answered that the Greer terminal has 24 jobs. He said it’s the indirect jobs he’d advise people in Polk County to focus on.
Another question was about the environment. Ellenberg said they consider themselves one of the leaders on protecting the environment. He said they have a grant program to get dirty diesel off the interstate and get more natural gas trucks, for example.

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