Inland Port in Greer Lays the Groundwork for Economic Expansion

The Inland Port in Greer is open for business, and its impact on the Upstate will be significant. Originally planned for being operational in September, completion of the port was delayed by this summer's exceptionally rainy weather, but Port of Charleston Senior VP of Economic Development and Projects Jack Ellenberg was quick to give credit to everyone involved in the work for coming together and minimizing the delays.

The term “inland port” is a relatively new concept—within the past 20 years or so—that refers to a facility that extends the shipping capabilities of traditional sea ports by linking sea, rail, and road shipments through a hub that is some distance away from the sea or connecting waterway.

What makes Greer’s Inland Port unique, says Ellenberg, is that in addition to the rail and road shipping options, the port is close enough to the freight runway of Greenville-Spartanburg Airport to add air freight to the mix. This creates the opportunity for a company that imports through the Port of Charleston to easily ship its goods anywhere in the country.

The addition of the Inland Port to the Upstate will make the area more attractive to manufacturers and other companies whose business involves importing and exporting goods on a regular basis.

First, the regularly scheduled train routes serviced by Norfolk Southern provide added reliability that is crucial for manufacturing schedules—and as an added bonus, transporting goods by rail rather than by road reduces a company's carbon footprint. “One effect it will have is it will take trucks off of the road and put those containers instead on the railroads,” says Robin Chapman, Director of Public Relations at Norfolk Southern. That means less wear and tear on the state’s highways in addition to less fuel being burned.

Additionally, the Inland Port will provide increased efficiencies and cost savings with the ability to store empty containers. Previously, if a company in the upstate needed to import goods coming from the Port of Charleston, it would incur two-way charges, paying to bring the full container in, and then paying again to send the empty container back. Now, the trains coming into and leaving from the Inland Port will be much more efficient, carrying almost no empty containers.

In terms of employment, the Inland Port itself is a highly efficient operation, requiring a regular staff of only a dozen or so, but long-term, the port will have a tremendous impact on the growth of the area. Greer is ideally located roughly halfway between Greensboro/Winston-Salem and Atlanta on the I-85 corridor, with Charlotte, Asheville, Knoxville, and other cities having easy access to the Upstate as well.

The Port of Charleston is itself experiencing increased revenues and cargo volume and is in the second year of a ten-year, $1.3 billion capital campaign for new and existing port facilities, of which the Inland Port is a part.

Ellenberg says, “If you look at what’s going on in shipping industry today, ships are getting bigger, not smaller. Post-Panamax ships”—that is, larger ships that will be accommodated by the expanded Panama Canal in 2015—“are already coming into Charleston every day. Ships that big are limited in ports they can call on, so they rely on the inland infrastructure.... Greer puts us in the middle of an urban footprint of 94 million people within 500 miles.”

And Lewis Gossett, President and CEO, South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, says, “South Carolina, like much of the United States, is experiencing a manufacturing renaissance that could lead to significant capital investments and new jobs. Projects like the Inland Port are the types of investments we have to make to be competitive in a fast-paced international economy that demands efficient supply-chain networks. The growth the Inland Port can help generate in the future is tremendous.”

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.

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