Follow the freight
Retail developers talk about “anchor” stores that help establish a site and attract similar businesses. In the Southeast, BMW’s automobile manufacturing operation has become a logistics anchor.
In the 10 years that the BMW plant has been in Spartanburg, S.C., the community has become educated, aware and responsive to the logistics needs of world-class manufacturing, says Ryan Delaney, business development manager for third-party logistics provider (3PL) Piedmont Interstate. This includes expanding the airport runway to handle the types of air cargo needed to support the plant.
“You also must have an efficient port to feed those types of operations logistically, and you have to spend money on the infrastructure — the roads,” Delaney notes.
With all of that development, Delaney admits the area is not only attractive to manufacturers, it’s also attractive to logistics services groups. “Competitors kind of pop up in the landscape because we seem to be addressing a lot of those [logistics] issues,” he says.
In support of that argument, the Port of Charleston recently announced it would modify two container cranes at the Columbus Street Terminal to allow them to move along a curved crane rail to a new container berth that is nearing completion. Various dredging projects are also underway.
The projects are part of a two-year $128 million capital improvement program announced in July 2003. During fiscal 2004 and 2005, the program will invest $31 million in container cranes, $25 million in wharf improvement, $20 million in container yard improvements and $13 million in container yard cranes.
The Greenville-Spartanburg airport completed a second runway extension in 1999, bringing the runway length to 11,000 feet. This, says the airport authority, will allow any aircraft currently in operation to land there. At the north end of the airport is a 120,000 square foot FedEx facility. Completed in 2001, the facility can sort up to 3,000 packages per hour.
Infrastructure is almost a rallying point in the region.
“We rarely have much dispute or debate on making the infrastructure better,” Delaney observes. He points to exits around major interstate highway interchanges where investments have upgraded the interchanges to smooth the flow of truck traffic into and out of the high volume areas around manufacturing and assembly plants.
If there’s a controversy, it’s over who will have the right to develop additional port capabilities along the Savannah River in Jasper County, according to Delaney. The issue is at times acrimonious, to the point that the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution opposing South Carolina’s attempt to condemn a portion of the land and take it for a proposed container terminal (see sidebar, “The Jasper County land war”).
The Port of Charleston had run into some opposition on a proposed expansion site for port operations. Delaney observes that some groups wanted to use the initial proposed site for residential development, but even with that, the high volume of container drayage presented potential problems. Another site was selected, and Charleston’s growth plans appear to have stabilized, says Delaney.
For Piedmont Interstate, its Charleston facility is running at or near capacity and, drawn by customers who have asked them to provide services through the Port of Savannah, Delaney says they started looking into expansion there. Growth plans caused the 3PL to review Baltimore, Norfolk and even Houston, but the final decision was to go to Savannah.
Rapid growth in container traffic suggested Savannah fit the bill as a new market in a fast-growing area, notes Delaney. High ratings as a “logistics-friendly city” helped, too (Savannah has ranked number one nationally for the last three years in Logistics Today’s exclusive Site Selector index). But the deciding factor was a group of customers who use both Charleston and Savannah. That isn’t enough to cover the full cost of expansion, Delaney confides, but it is a good start given the growth at Savannah and the number of shippers who use both ports.
Rapid growth carries a price. Finding rail-served sites is a little difficult, says Delaney, and congestion grows with volume. Delaney is confident the Georgia Ports Authority is dealing with the issues, and says there is a positive attitude about logistics and related infrastructure issues.
A good example of multi-state infrastructure investment is the I-85 corridor running from Atlanta to Charlotte. Because the truck traffic and logistics activity has increased, says Delaney, the states have done a lot of work on interchanges and building efficient access ramps. He also points to problems that are typical for ports. When booking dates are getting close, container volumes at the ports increase and create significant congestion. Charleston has built a new interstate bypass, I-526, to alleviate some of the congestion.
Congestion can be a significant issue for ports and logistics operations when it starts to affect the general public. Most people in the vicinities of the Port of Charleston and the Port of Savannah appear to understand the economic impact the ports have. The logistics community and economic development communities have been aggressive in both areas in letting the public know the impact in dollars and cents and in jobs. The Southeast has experienced a manufacturing decline along with many other parts of the nation as traditional industries moved production offshore.
“If we’re not going to manufacture in the U.S., then the jobs are going to come from goods and services coming in and out from offshore,” says Delaney. “People understand that the coastal areas are going to continue to be that economic engine. We used to back up to the plant dock, and now we’ve got to look at the port, and we’re going to back up to the port dock.”
The Southeast Region appears to be making that shift. In an over-simplified example, the textile manufacturing that used to occur in the region has been replaced with garment distribution, and at least a portion of the economy has shifted from manufacturing to logistics. Natural ports, good highway, rail and air connections, and sufficient land and interest in developing distribution operations are helping the area grow as a logistics center.
Those same attributes have helped — and been helped by — the develop- ment of automotive assembly plants like BMW in Spartanburg. Just as Piedmont Interstate changed from supporting the textile industry to a broad-based logistics services company specializing in ocean services, the region is paying close attention to logistics as an economic driver. LT
Piedmont Triad Partnership
Port of Charleston
Port of Savannah
Port of Wilmington (N.C.)