Published on December 16th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff


New Study: State Ports Critical to Midlands Economy

By David Cuda

“The Midlands’ economy would look considerably different, and a lot less robust, without our state’s port system. Many companies that do not use the Port are here because of it.” So says Lewis Gossett, President and CEO of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance.

There is now concrete data to back up Mr. Gossett’s claim about the importance of the South Carolina Ports Authority—our state’s link to the global marketplace.

In the Midlands alone, a new study says the port system has an economic impact of $13.6 billion. That translates into 48,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in labor income. In all, one in 12 jobs is tied to the port.

The study defines the Midlands as Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland, Saluda, Sumter, Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell and Edgefield counties.

Conducted by Dr. Joseph Von Nessen, research economist at the Darla Moore Business School of the University of South Carolina, the study covers the total economic impact associated with the port system operations and users during 2014.

“The port has an ability to facilitate the ongoing development of export-oriented industry clusters, particularly in advanced manufacturing,” Von Nessen wrote. “This is helping to expand the manufacturing base, which already represents 8.2 percent of the Midlands economy, into a sizeable industry footprint.”

Behind the statistics are real people whose quality of life has been enhanced because the state long ago recognized the strategic value of being on the ocean. Wisely, state leaders created a “public-private partnership” called the South Carolina Ports Authority that has served us well since 1942.

Today, the Port’s statewide impact as a job creator and revenue generator is truly amazing. More than 187,000 jobs have been created statewide with an annual economic impact of $53 billion.  Other statewide benefits of the study include:

  • One in every 11 jobs in South Carolina can be attributed directly or indirectly to our Port system. This corresponds to $10.2 billion in labor income that would not exist without the presence of the SCPA.
  • On average, jobs directly or indirectly supported by the Port pay nearly 40 percent higher than the state’s average annual salary.
  • The $53 billion in annual economic output supported by the SCPA represents nearly 10% of South Carolina’s total annual gross state product.
  • Port operations produce more than $912 million in tax revenue annually for the State.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt called SCPA “the nation’s most productive port,” and the performance record for the fiscal year that ended in June proves his point. During the Port’s previous fiscal year, there was a nearly 15% increase in container volume. Also, a record-breaking 553,000 vehicles moved across SCPA docks, up 15%.

I am President of the South Carolina Economic Developers Association, which has 600 members statewide who work to create jobs and expand investment. We see the port’s importance daily as companies inquire about how port can serve them, in the Midlands and throughout the state. Companies see the port and its efficiency as a huge asset for their investment in South Carolina.  It is a remarkable success story.

We were especially pleased to learn SCPA gained the support and approval needed to deepen the harbor to 52 feet, which is essential to remain competitive in the global economy with the new commercial ships that are so much larger than in the past.

The harbor deepening project is scheduled to be complete by 2020, and that will empower our Ports to continue the momentum so important to our economy. In his “State of the Port,” SCPA president and CEO Jim Newsome expressed great optimism for the future. “The Port has a highly talented and skilled workforce,” he said. “And with the commitment of our entire maritime community, I am confident that SCPA’s best years are ahead.”

Those of us in the Midlands region who live, work and raise our families many miles away from the coast can be grateful. Our state’s leaders had the vision to create a port system capable of embracing technologies and massive ships traversing the world at speeds they never dreamed possible.

Somehow, those early state leaders intuitively knew that by creating SCPA, they were investing in an economic engine that future generations would need to prosper. And that tradition continues today. In 2015, South Carolina is blessed to have a port system that empowers our small state to play a big role in the world economy.

David Cuda is President of the South Carolina Economic Developers Association and director of Corporate Solutions at Colliers International.

David Cuda




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