By Cathy Morrow Roberson
South Carolina’s economy is booming thanks to international trade. For the eighth consecutive year, the state has set a record for total export sales. 2017 export sales totaled $32.2 billion, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and represents a 2.9 percent increase over the 2016 total. Export destinations reached more than 190 countries with China, Canada, Germany, and Mexico as the top 2017 export markets. Top export commodities for 2017 were vehicles, aircraft, machinery, rubber, and electrical machinery.
The backbone to this booming trade is South Carolina’s logistics market. According to a report from the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, there are more than 600 logistics companies, ranging from transportation to freight forwarders to warehouse and distribution centers, operating in the state.
But the wear and tear on the state’s infrastructure is evident. Despite such projects as the recently opened Dillon inland port, more is needed. The state’s infrastructure continues to creak and groan as freight movements compete against people on the roads, rail, air, and sea. Earlier this year, Governor McMaster requested four specific projects be included in the national infrastructure plan:
- $500 million to improve the safety on 2,000 miles of roads—adding basic safety features such as shoulders, pavement markings, and signage.
- $2 billion for paving and repairing the Interstate and Primary road systems. The governor’s office emphasized that 35 percent of the interstate system is rated in “poor” condition, 10 percent of the system is rated in “good” condition, and more than 50 percent needs to be completely rebuilt.
- $2 billion to address congestion and bottlenecks along South Carolina’s freight network.
- $500 million to repair and replace structurally deficient bridges.
Unfortunately, it seems the national infrastructure plan may end up buried amongst other plans as Capitol Hill turns its attention to other matters. Time will tell if South Carolina’s infrastructure will continue to deteriorate.
Efficient movement of goods is essential for economic development. For the Upstate, the Greer inland port has exceeded all promises. In 2017, it handled a record 124,817 total rail moves in 2017, a 20.4 percent over its 2016 volume record of 103,639 rail moves. Since its opening in 2013, the Greer inland port has improved efficiency for international freight movements between Charleston and companies located across the southeast, as well as spurred economic investment in an area where BMW, Michelin, and other international manufacturers already operate. In addition, Norfolk Southern, which moves goods from the Port of Charleston to the Greer Inland Port, expanded its intermodal service from twice a week to five times a week, connecting the Port of Charleston to Charlotte, N.C. in 2016. By expanding the intermodal service to five times a week, Norfolk Southern has helped take additional trucks off the busy I-85 corridor, as well as I-20 between Charleston and Greer.
Still, the interstate remains a busy mode for transporting freight. I-85 expansion in Spartanburg County through Cherokee County is expected to be completed by 2021. Another ongoing project that’s been going on since 2015 is the I-85/I-385 Gateway Project in Greenville County. The Woodruff Road bridge is one of several new bridges that are major components of the revamped interchange of Interstates 85 and 385 in Greenville County and is designed to relieve congestion and increase safety along the state’s third busiest interchange—average annual daily traffic (AADT) on I-85 is 131,000 vehicles per day (vpd), and is projected to be 174,700 by the year 2035. On I-385, the AADT is 105,500 vpd, and is projected to increase to 172,500 vpd by 2035. Completion of the I-85/I-385 Gateway Project is expected to enhance commerce and serve as a catalyst for economic growth. Estimated completion date is May 2019.
A growing number of counties in the Upstate are attracting international firms. One example is Anderson County, which has become a leading location for industrial manufacturing. In 2017, expansion plans from such international manufacturers as Electrolux, Robert Bosch, and Arthrex were announced, a boom for employment, but for infrastructure a potential concern. Secondary and primary roads and rail will likely need to be upgraded and expanded for the anticipated increase in freight movements.
Other Upstate counties are thriving as well, including Greenwood County. Strategically located within 25 miles of both Interstates I-26 and I-385, with access to I-85 and I-77, the county boasts such companies as Fujifilm’s North American manufacturing and distribution facilities, Colgate Palmolive, and Teijin, a Japanese chemical, pharmaceutical, and information technology company. Similar to Anderson County, Greenwood County will need to ensure secondary roads are adequate for the efficient movement of freight as well as availability of rail service.
South Carolina’s economic potential is great and closely tied to global trade. However, to achieve continued success, the state needs to partner with economic groups throughout the state as well as with private enterprise to identify and invest in infrastructure projects to keep the flow of goods flowing in an efficient manner.