Rising cargo, revenue

The State Ports Authority reports that the Port of Charleston handled 91,948 pier containers in May, marking its busiest month since March 2007. CEO Jim Newsome said the large volume was due in-part to several ships that arrived late in the month.

"I don't predict a trend out of this," he said.

The SPA has handled 870,791 total containers through the first 11 months of its fiscal year, or 6.5% more from a year ago and 0.6% above projections.

The SPA staff also reported $148.8 million in operating revenue between July and May, up 16.2% and 5.5% higher than projections.

Newsome has said the SPA is benefiting from strong export business.

Inland Port

The SPA spproved a $1.08 million contract for improvements like scales and telecommunications at the new Inland Port in Greer. Newsome said the agency has signed up another customer for the Upstate facility, bringing the total to seven. He declined to identify the business, but he said every company he had identified as a potenial major user is on board, "so it's so far, so good."

Infrastructure improvements and preparations for bigger cargo ships dominate the State Ports Authority's new nine-figure spending plan.

The SPA's board Wednesday approved a $113.5 million capital spending plan for the fiscal year, which starts July 1. That's a big number but about $10 million less than what the maritime agency proposed to spend in fiscal year 2013-14, which ends June 30.

Jim Newsome, CEO of the maritime agency, said a substantial portion of money will go to ensuring the Port of Charleston can continue to attract the longer, heavier vessels that are quickly becoming the industry standard.

"This is mainly on existing terminals," Newsome said.

The projects include $19.5 million for wharf enhancements to accommodate the larger ships and $10.4 million for new container cranes. About $20 million will go toward work on the new terminal being built at the old Navy base in North Charleston.

Bigger cargo ships are expected to call on East Coast ports in coming years, in part because of the widening of the Panama Canal and other industry trends.

The SPA also said Wednesday that it is expecting increases in volume in its next fiscal year.

Projections call for the agency to handle nearly 943,000 total cargo containers from July through next June, up from an estimated 3.4 percent this year.

Also, the SPA is forecasting that 815,000 tons of noncontainerized cargo will cross its docks, up nearly 10 percent.

"I'm confident our volumes will continue to grow above the market average," Newsome said.

The SPA's bullish glimpse into the future comes just two days after Singapore-based tire manufacturer Giti Tires announced it will bring 1,700 jobs to the state when it opens a plant in Chester County. The company said it plans to use SPA terminals for its import and export needs. The SPA board approved up to $2.6 million for infrastructure for the new plant.

"Our port's performance is a strong reflection of our state's economic development successes, and it positions us well to serve imports and exports for our nation," ports Chairman Bill Stern said in a statement.