SCPA President Jim Newsome headlines DI speaker series event
The latest entry of the Daniel Island Speaker Series brought South Carolina Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome to the stage. On Jan. 30, more than 400 packed the ballroom at the Daniel Island Club to hear Newsome’s remarks. The port chief has been in his position since 2009 and was previously the president of Hapag-Lloyd (America), Inc., the fifth largest ocean shipping company in the world.
If his credentials weren’t an indication, he laid it all out at the beginning of his presentation.
“I love talking about the port,” Newsome stated. “As you can imagine, it’s my life, it’s my livelihood. It’s something I’ve really been involved in all my life. My background really starts in Savannah, Georgia. I grew up on the port. My dad was the number two guy on the port of Savannah. I used to go to work with him every Saturday to get out of mother’s hair.”
During his time on stage, Newsome gave a rundown of what the Port of Charleston does and where it’s going.
“I explain in the simplest way I can to people: it’s a business that’s owned by the state of South Carolina,” he said. “We run as a business and if you’re a resident of South Carolina, which I assume most of you are, you’re a shareholder of the port.”
Currently, the SCPA is in the process of building a new terminal, the Hugh Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston. Newsome earned some applause when he assured attendees that his organization will never build a terminal on Daniel Island.
In one of his first slides, the SCPA leader provided some fun facts about the port. Approximately 8,000 truck transactions happen every day, the port has 250,000 exported vehicles, and a staff of 600 employees.
“Over 50 percent of those truck transactions come between 10 and 2 [o’clock],” he elaborated. “So, the trucks know to stay off the roads in the mornings and late at night because they don’t want to sit in traffic, either.”
Newsome then discussed the economic impact that the South Carolina Ports Authority has on the state. The SCPA represents 10 percent of the South Carolina’s GDP, contributing $53 billion to the state economy, 187,000 jobs, and 40 percent higher wages than the South Carolina average.
“From the last time we did that, all numbers had gone up except the number of jobs,” he explained. “The number of jobs in the last study was like 260,000. We asked the economist why. You know our business has grown, everything’s growing. He said ‘automation,’ basically. We’re not employing as many people in manufacturing.”
Some of the accomplishments seen by the port in the 2018 fiscal year were a $300 million harbor deepening contract, the completion of the Leatherman Terminal’s fill phase, a second inland port opening in Dillon, S.C., and a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work plan.
Newsome then explained where the port has been over the last three years by showing capital expenditures, including $213.8 million in 2018, and looked ahead at the initiatives for the next three fiscal years.
“We will have the deepest harbor on the east coast by March of 2021. It’s interesting. I could write one book alone about dealing with the Army Corps of Engineers on harbor deepening,” he joked before adding that “this is the fastest a deep draft navigation project has ever been done in the United States.”
Newsome also stated that moving more cargo by rail is a goal in the coming years, thanks to planned inland port growth.
In an extensive Q&A, residents honed in on the traffic aspect of the port and the implications behind the expanding wharf at the Wando Terminal across from Daniel Island, which will allow barges to move containers, instead of trucks.
“Every container that comes in and out of that terminal is touched by a truck,” said Newsome. “So any percentage of growth is that much percentage of trucks until two things (happen). Until, one: we get the barge to the ICTF (Intermodal Container Transfer Facility). And, secondly: when we open the Leatherman Terminal in 2021, we’ll move some business over there by virtue of that.”
“There’s no way to hide the fact that our growth in container volume drives more truck volume,” he concluded.
One resident said that it took him two and a half hours to get from Goose Creek to Daniel Island the morning of the speaker series.
“That’s just simply not satisfactory,” Newsome said.
The gentleman asked Newsome if there was any way to circumvent the one truck, one container model, suggesting a monorail be used, like “at Disneyland.”
“There is no concept that you’re talking about that I know of,” responded Newsome. “In the investment of such a concept, I can’t even imagine how that would be done.”
“The best we can do is…make sure we match as many trips, in and out,” he added before saying that the barge was the best bet to relieve truck traffic.
One attendee showed concern for the structural integrity of the Wando Bridge, after last year’s emergency shutdown. While that does not fall under the port’s jurisdiction, Newsome showed confidence that the South Carolina Department of Transportation would continue to take care of it.
A woman in attendance asked about the environmental impact of deepening the harbor for the Wando Terminal wharf expansion. Newsome said that he “would argue we’re in good shape.”
“The ocean shipping industry by law has been mandated to use ultra-low sulfur fuel,” he stated. “So, the sulfur content has gone from 3.7 percent down to 0.5 percent, and that will be global as of the beginning of 2020.”
Newsome asserted that on the local front, the port runs electric cranes and is “looking at ways to use more diesel-electric combinations.”
The final question of the night was about international trade, specifically with China.
“I learn about our trade policy like you, from Twitter every morning,” Newsome quipped to much laughter.
“Every malady in the world right now is being blamed on the trade war,” he said. “The reality of life is that China is 60 percent of Asian trade today. So, anything that diminishes volume in China will hurt trade, if it doesn’t go somewhere else.”