Thanks for that kind introduction Charlie. And thanks for the leadership you have provided at the SC Department of Commerce. It has been tremendous, and goes hand in hand with what we have tried to do at the Port. Your department’s accomplishments will undoubtedly yield positive benefits in every region of South Carolina for years to come.
Well, this is my fifth State of the Port address. And, I again feel privileged to be before you tonight. During these last five years we have been blessed with strong economic times, continued port growth and, I personally have enjoyed the support of so many of you in this room tonight.
I don’t guess anyone has made a speech in the last month without referring to the horrible events of September 11th. I think it is particularly appropriate for me to thank and praise the entire maritime community for its understanding and cooperation during the Port’s heightened alert status since that unforgettable date. U.S. Customs, the Coast Guard, Immigration and the Department of Agriculture have all been forced to stretch their manpower and funding resources to increase their scrutiny of port activities. Our Port Police have also tightened security and stepped up coordination with outside police and fire departments, DHEC and HAZMAT teams to ensure good communications and readiness. There will be more challenges ahead in this area, but we can certainly be proud of the efforts made by so many thus far. So, I thank you for your cooperation.
I would like to compliment the Propeller Club on the theme for this evening’s event, "Seizing Global Opportunities." That is certainly what trade is all about, and why we are all here.
I’m going to take a different approach in this State of the Port address. I’m not going to dwell on the successful year we just completed, or the productivity improvements we’ve made, or the capital investments we continue to make in our facilities. Instead, I want to talk about "Seizing Global Opportunities" and what that means for South Carolina.
We hear all the time how advances in communications and transportation have made the world smaller. While it’s true that ideas, news, information and products flow quicker than ever before, these same advances show us just how much opportunity still remains untapped.
The Propeller Club has also done a great transformation of the Passenger Terminal. Tonight during the reception and at our tables we see a sampling of products from a wide variety of companies. These are businesses that are capitalizing on global opportunities. And they ship their goods through our Ports.
International trade is truly a part of everyday life, though most people tend to take it for granted. Let me share an example with you. One recent Saturday morning Jane in Mount Pleasant started her day with a cup of Colombian coffee. She drank it out of a mug made in Brazil that she retrieved from a handcrafted cabinet from Indonesia. Her feet were comfortable in her slippers made in Malaysia as she walked across her Italian tile floor.
After reading the newspaper, which was printed using a machine made in Japan, she put on a sweater made of wool from Australia to do some shopping. At Wal-Mart and Home Depot, she bought several items, including flower bulbs from Holland and a rake from China.
At the same time, but thousands of miles away in Western Europe, John was settling in for the night. He spent his day working in the yard with Frigidaire lawn equipment made in Orangeburg and was now preparing to relax with a cup of American Classic Tea, harvested just outside of Charleston.
John was looking forward to watching the afternoon’s soccer match that he had recorded earlier on a Fuji videotape made in Greenwood. Before that, he had driven his BMW X5, made in South Carolina of course (on Michelin tires) to the store to buy some South Carolina-bred poultry to cook on his Ducane grill? also from South Carolina.
After enjoying his meal, and his team’s victory in the soccer game, he retired to his finely manicured lawn and relaxed in his outdoor wood furniture from Cox in Orangeburg. Later he took a shower and went to bed using towels and sheets made by Springs.
Neither Jane nor John thought too much about the products they used that day?? Nor do you and I. They simply were enjoying everyday life and a higher standard of living based on their choices and decisions as consumers. But behind those decisions are a massive economic chain and a very fluid transportation system. Few countries attempt to be self-sufficient anymore. We are economically interdependent and enjoy the many daily choices that free trade provides.
The numbers on international trade in South Carolina are staggering – our seaports move $33 billion in goods annually. There are 700 importers and exporters from every county in South Carolina. Everyday more than 83,000 people go to work across the state in jobs related to trade through the port.
But beyond the statistics is what our successful, competitive port system really means to South Carolina – global market access. Today, manufacturers ship by ocean from Charleston to more than 150 nations around the world. The value of proximity to so many markets is especially important in today’s environment when almost every business is global in nature.
From Argentina to Zimbabwe, if a company has a customer or supplier there, they can reach them directly from South Carolina’s coast. Only a short drive or train trip separates any site in South Carolina from the rest of the world. Once here, you have a collection of more than 300 private businesses that do nothing but work to keep our port humming.
Brokers and forwarders, who represent the importers and exporters, expedite goods to their final destination. Ocean carriers provide the ships that bring the goods into our harbor. Pilots guide those ships to safe harbor. Tugboat companies assist the vessels in docking. Line handlers secure the vessels at our berths. Longshoremen toil on the docks and support areas of the terminals. Warehousers speed distribution. Trucking companies get cargo to where it needs to be. And the list continues – railroads, ship agents and chandlers, maintenance companies, etc.
As many of you know, I have been active in several national and international port organizations. After traveling and speaking to colleagues at ports around the world, I can say without hesitation that Charleston has the finest maritime and transportation community around. That is our reputation.
And we have a lot to be excited about. In fiscal year 2001, volume through the Port of Charleston hit a record high for the 8th consecutive year. In the last ten years, our business has doubled.
But, while the State of our port is strong, it is somewhat clouded by uncertainty in the near term. Both the current global economic condition and the spin-off effects of September 11th could have negative impacts on business levels for this fiscal year.
As we look to the future though, this short-term weakness in activity is only a blip on the radar screen. We confidently expect the demand for port services in Charleston to double in the next 20 years. This is based solely on growth by existing importers and exporters, and not on some hypothetical new business development. Therefore, we must be prepared to capitalize on the opportunity when it arises.
The Ports Authority’s mission is to help companies take advantage of the many business prospects that exist across the oceans. Without a company to ship a product, there would be no Port. And, without a Port, South Carolina would not attract many of the companies Secretary Way and his commerce team approach. We exist as a tool and a facilitator. We own no containers, no cargo and no ships.
Therefore, the message I bring you tonight is not my message or the Ports Authority’s message. It is the message of businesses and working men and women from across our state.
Urban chambers of commerce from South Carolina population centers are today joining voices with statewide organizations such as the Manufacturers Alliance, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Developers Association. Their message is clear. South Carolina’s primary port in Charleston must be expanded? and the Cooper River side of Daniel Island is the best option.
To be sure, there are local concerns that must be addressed. But the issue of port expansion is much bigger than just Charleston. The Ports Authority’s legislated mandate is statewide in nature and importance. What happens to South Carolina’s premier port in Charleston impacts every region of the entire state.
The challenge before us is very clear. We must meet the business and economic needs of our state while addressing local quality of life concerns. To achieve this, a compromise has emerged for a much smaller port expansion project on the Cooper River side of Daniel Island.
To help expedite the project, private sector involvement was invited earlier this year. Not one, but nine, ocean carrier, stevedoring and terminal operating companies expressed strong interest in the project. Clearly there is a business demand and need for this development.
Before we move forward with construction, the General Assembly will be requested to give its concurrence. Additionally, a rigorous permitting process will satisfy the concerns of various state and federal agencies. Considering the fact that only moderate growth will saturate port capacity by 2006 to 2008, time is certainly of the essence. We will move forward with this when the Legislature returns to session.
In the interim, the Ports Authority continues to seek new and better ways of using its existing facilities. In the next 12 months, capital improvements to our terminals and equipment will total more than $45 million. Considering Charleston is already three times as productive as the average U.S. East Coast port when it comes to land utilization, the intensity of space use is approaching the maximum sustainable levels.
Also important to all of us is the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. It is ahead of schedule and under budget, but another $26 million in state funding is required for its completion over the next two years. Although the State is experiencing budget shortfalls, we cannot overlook the importance of this project.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly because of public concerns, we must work diligently on solutions to local transportation problems. The biggest concern about port expansion in Charleston has been related to transportation infrastructure. While traffic will continue to increase even without port expansion, the Port does indeed generate additional transportation needs. And while the Charleston community benefits from the high-paying jobs our port provides, it also bears the largest share of the traffic burden.
As a community, we need to identify specific concerns with port expansion and then develop solutions to address the problems. There is statewide recognition, and indeed a national recognition, that additional road and rail infrastructure will be required to solve these problems. But these solutions will not come so long as the vocal opponents of port expansion refuse to compromise.
The idea of developing an inland port has been tossed around lately. The goal of any such intermodal facility should be to speed the movement of cargo while relieving traffic congestion. In our free market economy, goods will continue to flow through the fastest and least expensive route.
It is important that we understand the role of the inland port as the Department of Commerce undertakes its analysis of the need and possible locations. Any successful inland port or intermodal facility must serve the growth of the Port of Charleston, but it cannot replace port expansion. If our port does not expand, then there is no need for such a facility.
We must continue to look for new ways of approaching our area’s infrastructure challenges, including the development or expansion of new road and highway routes and rail facilities. Six months ago we committed to pursuing alternatives to relieve traffic pressures on our community’s infrastructure, and we are doing that.
In closing, I believe all of us here understand that international trade and manufacturing are embedded in the fabric of our economy and are vital parts of our everyday life.
We must diligently protect the foundations of our economy. The very purpose of the World Trade Center was to serve as a monument to global peace and progress through international commerce. While terrorists may have destroyed the buildings, the World Trade Center’s cause remains valid.
We cannot allow threats or acts of violence to cause us to retreat from our beliefs. The U.S. is the world’s largest trading nation, and in turn the world’s leading power – a position that has benefited our community and our state. It is clearly this economic strength that the terrorists seek to impact.
The fact is that our world offers endless prospects for individuals to make their own way? and to build better lives for themselves and for their families. I hope that each of you, like me, entered the room tonight and will exit the room tonight excited about helping South Carolina accomplish these goals. It’s what this port community has been doing for decades.
We look forward to the challenges of the future not with negativity or angst? rather we eagerly look forward to expanding South Carolina’s international presence with great hope and anticipation.
Let’s capitalize on our assets – this beautiful, deep harbor so close to the sea, a tremendous, energetic and effective workforce, a dedicated economic development effort, and a host of companies that have made a home in South Carolina and depend on international trade.
South Carolina’s future depends on our ability to Seize Global Opportunities.