Exclusive: South Carolina Logistics Industry Continues to Grow

Richard Breen

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

South Carolina’s logistics industry – whose size might surprise the casual observer – continues to create jobs.

In recent weeks, there have been three announcements from the S.C. Department of Commerce from growing logistics companies, totaling more than 250 new jobs:

- Kuehne + Nagel Inc. is launching an operation in Charleston County to support Mercedes-Benz Vans LLC. The facility is expected to create 180 jobs over the next three years.

- BLG Logistics is also coming to Charleston County to support Mercedes-Benz. Its facility is expected to create 28 jobs.

- Container Maintenance Corp. is opening a facility in Dillon County to support Inland Port Dillon. The $11.5 million project is expected to create approximately 54 jobs.

“The two new Charleston County logistics companies announcements are a perfect example of a world-class manufacturer right here in South Carolina and its dependence on excellent logistics services,” said Suzanne Dickerson, who directs logistics industry initiatives for the S.C. Council on Competitiveness.

The Dillon County announcement could be a harbinger. Inland Port Dillon opened in April and will serve as a transfer station for cargo coming from and heading to the Port of Charleston.

“We’re routinely running trains between Dillon and Charleston six days per week,” said Erin Dhand, a S.C. Ports Authority spokeswoman. “The facility is handling increasing volumes of cargo for our anchor customer, Harbor Freight Tools, and seeing strong interest by other clients.”

In planning for its 2019 fiscal year, which began July 1, the Ports Authority is projecting 40,000 rail moves at Inland Port Dillon during its first full year of operation.

“I think the inland port can be a game changer for our region,” said Jeff McKay, executive director of the North Eastern Strategic Alliance, which supports economic development in a nine-county area that includes Dillon. “It will allow us to offer a logistical advantage to certain companies looking along the I-95 corridor.”

The Ports Authority expects the inland port’s economic development impact to be similar to that of Inland Port Greer, which opened in 2013.

“Distribution centers, expansions of current port users and any port-dependent business (those companies with international supply chains) represent the types of positive growth that Inland Port Dillon will help recruit to the area,” Dhand said.

The Council on Competitiveness commissioned a 2017 economic impact study that counted more than 600 logistics companies in South Carolina, more than either the automotive or aerospace industries. It stated that logistics was responsible for more than 113,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $5.4 billion. The study defined logistics as “the movement of raw materials and final products from one company to another, or to a consumer, via rail, ground, sea or air transportation.”

“South Carolina’s ability to move products efficiently across the state and around the globe is one of our most strategic competitive advantages,” Dickerson said.

In starting a new operation, companies often pair logistics and manufacturing under roof. Dynamic Brands, a maker of golf and recreational accessories, recently announced it was relocating manufacturing and warehouse operations to Chesterfield County, creating at least 12 jobs.

The Palmetto State has room to improve, however. Ball State University and the economic development organization Conexus Indiana team up each year to issue a Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card for each state. South Carolina was one of five states to receive an A grade for manufacturing industry health, but it scored a C-minus for logistics industry health.

“To measure the health of the logistics industry, we include the share of total logistics industry income as a share of total state income, and the employment per capita,” the report stated. “We also include commodity flows data by both rail and road. To this we measure infrastructure spending as the per capita expenditure on highway construction.”

The Conexus/Ball State report card issued grades in nine categories. South Carolina also received an A for its global reach (international trade and foreign direct investment), while its lowest grade, a D-minus, came in human capital (education).

Conexus issues A-F grades using a standard distribution curve. South Carolina’s grade, therefore, would put it slightly below the median. Alaska, Utah and Virginia also received C-minus grades.

In October, the Council on Competitiveness plans to host its annual SC Logistics TechTalk in conjunction with the 2018 SC International Trade Conference.

“This is the state's only technology-focused logistics event,” Dickerson said.