Container volume up 6% over same month in '07
Bucking a trend of falling container volume, the S.C. State Ports Authority Tuesday reported a nearly 6 percent increase for October compared with the same month last year.
That's especially significant because perennial rival Savannah, which saw a 15 percent increase in volume in the latest fiscal year, while Charleston lost 10 percent, dropped more than 6 percent year over year for October, local officials said.
Bernard Groseclose, the SPA's chief executive officer, said the upswing last month was reflected in every area of local port business.
"I'm very cautious about a celebration, because it's one month, but I'm also somewhat encouraged by the fact that we're not seeing quite the decline being seen in other ports," he said.
SPA officials reported at a board meeting Tuesday that volume is down 2.3 percent between July and October compared with the same time last year, but that other ports are feeling a greater strain.
Groseclose said the SPA was hurt so much in the fiscal year that ended in June largely because of the business decline experienced by its largest customer, Maersk Line.
He said the SPA's advantage now comes from its various trade routes and the economic buffer created by that diversity. If the agency relied solely on Asian cargo, for instance, current trends would be less optimistic, he said.
"My hope is that we've seen in our trade a bottoming out and can prepare ourselves for some turnaround," Groseclose said. "I'm not suggesting we're at the beginning of this trend and business is going to continue to escalate. I think what we're hearing from our customers is it's going to be some time before we're going to see some real pickup."
He said he doesn't expect any notable changes until "well into next year."
Across the U.S., 2008 is expected to be the slowest year for cargo volume since 2004, according to the National Retail Federation. Projections put total volume down more than 7 percent for the year.
In other business, the SPA board said it will begin accepting bids Thursday for a major security enhancement project at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant.
The multimillion-dollar project will include new infrastructure and electronics, such as "intelligent video surveillance." That means cameras around the terminal would filter out birds flying by but zero in on individuals walking the perimeter.
Federal maritime security regulations put in place after Sept. 11 are the impetus for the project, according to port officials. The SPA will receive $4 million in federal funding.
The board plans to award a contract in December.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or email@example.com.