South Carolina Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome has been on the job for 52 days and he is already riding the crest of hammering out a fresh, new deal with Maersk, keeping the world’s largest shipping line at the Port of Charleston through 2014. Maersk had announced in 2008 that it was leaving the port in 2009. Newsome is now setting his sights on developing the untapped potential and promise of the Charleston port.
“This is a great port, the most productive port in North America and probably in the world. It has great turnaround times on trucks, it has excellent facilities. The most important thing is that it is the deepest natural harbor in the South Atlantic so we can handle large ships without any need for a dredging project.”
Once the second largest container port on the East Coast, Charleston has dropped to fourth behind New York-New Jersey, southeast Virginia and Savannah. Newsome says there is no reason that such a drop should happen: “Our volumes are down probably more than the decline in the market. Our container volumes are at year 2000 levels and to me that is just a complete disconnect. It doesn’t make sense given the quality of the ports, so our major focus short term is to get our volumes moving back in the right direction.”
Newsome says the Port of Charleston and the state’s other ports must be developed for future business opportunities because the state and the entire Southeast region is in the midst of a population growth spurt that will continue over the foreseeable future. “Population growth and manufacturing growth are the two things that drive trade. We are in a good position geographically. We have the only permitted container terminal on the east coast of the United States. It is certainly being challenged but we have it. That gives us the ability to grow our business and gives us a lot of capacity to handle new container flows.”
Newsome says he is also looking to work with Georgetown County officials for the revitalization of the Port of Georgetown.
Newsome says certainly the future development of a major port in Jasper County is on his radar. He says the Jasper County port, which would be a joint effort between South Carolina and Georgia, should not be in direct competition with the Port of Charleston. “I believe that both ports are intent on the fact that the jasper terminal should be sequenced with the demands on existing facilities. We would not try to create a competitive situation and that terminal would come on line at a time at a time when spaces are required for both ports.”
Newsome says it also stands to reason that the state of Georgia would not want the Jasper Terminal to be in direct competition with the Port of Savannah.
Newsome says there is no doubt that the city of Charleston has a national and international profile as far as tourism is concerned and that profile can help with the enhancement of the city’s port and waterfront. “We have been named as a home port for Carnival Criuse Lines and that means were gong to have 70 embarkations and 70 disembarkations next year and that will be a catalyst for us to develop the Union Pier Cruise Terminal. We have a world class developer in Cooper Roberts in here and along wit the city they are our partners. Our vision is that will really add to the charm of Charleston. It will help to reaffiliate Charlestonians with their waterfront.”