Gateway to the World

‘Gateway to the world’: South Carolina Inland Port fuels Upstate growth

In economic terms, the South Carolina Inland Port in Greer has become the Upstate’s “gateway to the world” and has exceeded all expectations since it opened just three years ago to serve its first customer, BMW.

After handling 42,488 containers its first full year, the port is on track to transport 110,000 containers by next year — serving a multitude of new companies that have opened or expanded.

“Having the Inland Port in Spartanburg County is as close as you can get to having Charleston’s port here,” said Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt, chairman of council’s economic development committee. “It’s a gateway to the world for business and industry.”

He added: “Our existing companies are using it now, and as more companies are looking to move here that will be the enticing tool in our toolbox we can offer.”

The port is a collection point for freight that can be shipped by rail or truck to and from the Port of Charleston. Cranes are used to move containers between trucks and trains.

Companies that can credit the port as a reason for locating or expanding here include Toray, Eastman Chemical, Adidas, Dollar Tree, Rite-Aid, BMW and Michelin.

Expansion planned

The Inland Port’s rapid growth has forced S.C. Ports Authority officials to plan for expansion sooner than they expected when the terminal opened in October 2013.

The authority forecasts a 23 percent increase in container volume for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2017.

Operating on 40 acres of a 100-acre site off Interstate 85 near Highway 101, the authority has budgeted $2.2 million to expand operations to as much as 70 acres next year.

Combined with the deep-water Port of Charleston, the pair of facilities have been credited for $10 billion invested by companies and 24,000 new jobs created in South Carolina since 2012.

A recent report on port activity by the commercial real estate firm CBRE called the $43 million S.C. Inland Port the second-fastest growing inland port in the country, exceeded only by a port in southern California.

“The Greenville area has seen its cargo volumes grow by triple-digit increases since (2013),” the report stated. “Due in part to its growing manufacturing base and the nearby Port of Charleston, (the Greenville area) has emerged as one of the fastest growing industrial markets in the U.S.”

Economic driver

A study by the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business estimates the economic impact on the state from the ports is $53 billion. That reflects the dollar value of all goods and services that can be directly or indirectly linked to the Ports Authority.

The impact has resulted in an estimated 187,206 jobs and more than $10.2 billion in labor income for South Carolinians that would not exist otherwise, the study said.

Further, about half of the economic impact statewide is concentrated in the Upstate — which translates to $26.8 billion economic output, nearly 95,000 jobs and $5.2 billion in labor income.

The study also states that one out of every eight jobs in the 10-county Upstate region can be attributed to the Ports Authority.

The average labor income for all jobs linked to the Ports Authority is $54,532, which is 39.4 percent higher than the average labor income in South Carolina.

Inland Port Terminal Manager Michael Hoffman said the largest user of the port is BMW Manufacturing in Greer, which opened its plant 13 years ago and employs more than 8,000 workers.

“The Inland Port is important for BMW’s import and export operations,” BMW spokesman Steve Wilson said. “The company’s export program enables BMW to invest in new markets where we see potential for future growth. … Demand for our X models from emerging markets has grown significantly over the past five years, and we believe that trend will continue.”

When it first opened, the Inland Port was seen as “a catalyst for redefining how distribution is done in South Carolina and surrounding areas,” Ports Authority CEO and President Jim Newsome said at the time. “I think we’ll look back on this as an extremely good investment.”