State Ports Authority Chief Executive Officer Jim Newsome described a future with a deeper harbor, a network of distribution centers, and successful new container and cruise terminals to some 500 people who gathered Tuesday for the annual State of the Port Address.
The speech at the Charleston Marriott on Lockwood Boulevard marked Newsome’s second presentation at the annual Propeller Club event, where members of the maritime community dined on $95-a-plate steak dinners. He gave last year’s address after only weeks on the job, announcing that the port had reached a deal with Danish shipping giant Maersk Line to keep the company’s local business from pulling out as planned.
This year he reflected instead on nine straight months of volume growth and emphasized the steps to come.
‘I said that the best years of this great port were ahead of us, not behind us. And, after barely two months into the job, I have to be honest with you and tell you that I sincerely hoped that I was right,’ Newsome said. ‘A year later I can tell you that I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished.’
Before his presentation, Governor- elect Nikki Haley roused the crowd with a charge for economic development and competition against neighboring ports.
‘You now have a governor who does not like to lose,’ Haley said. ‘Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore.’
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, promised by phone to secure funding needed for a feasibility study to dredge Charleston Harbor, either by changing legislation or by asking the Obama administration to commit to the project.
Newsome highlighted the importance of dredging to the port’s long-term success, noting that local terminals now handle four mega-ships per week and that dredging Charleston Harbor from 45 feet to 50 feet would cost considerably less than at competing ports. He also mentioned the need to keep Georgetown Terminal maintained at 27 feet.
Newsome called distribution centers ‘an area where we have been behind the curve and where we need to play catch up.’ He also said that Charleston must become more competitive in export cargo.
He called the new container terminal under construction at the former Navy base ‘an all-in bet on the future of big ships calling East Coast ports,’ and noted that the new cruise passenger terminal would soon move toward a request for approval on architectural design. Last year’s State of the Port took place at the existing cruise terminal which, Newsome noted, ‘can only be described as rustic.’
Newsome asked attendees to look around the room to see the energy within it.
‘Charleston has been a port since 1670,’ he said. ‘It is the reason there is a historic Charleston, by the way, and it will be a successful port long after all of us are gone.’
State of the port: Better, with more to come