New infrastructure funding and the era of mega-ships

Suzanne Dickerson

What does the future hold for South Carolina’s logistics industry?

There have been some exciting milestones achieved over the past couple of months for South Carolina’s logistics industry. The first was the passage of a roads funding bill, and the second was the historical passage of the largest ships to-date through the Charleston Port in May. The Council’s Director of Logistics Industry Initiatives, Suzanne Dickerson, talks about these milestones in the Q&A below and what they mean for the future of South Carolina’s logistics industry.

Q: South Carolina has been talking about the need to repair our roads for a few years. We now have increased funding with the passage of the roads bill. Looking towards the future, are we finished talking about funding for roads, or will we be seeing this topic again soon?

Both our roads and bridges in SC have been in need of additional funding, and there are two main trends that need to be considered holistically. The first is that we have had more than our fair share of climate-related natural disasters in South Carolina over the past two years that required the diversion of transportation infrastructure dollars to remediate damage.

The second trend is connected to the robust growth of the advanced manufacturing economy in our state. We expect to see the amount of freight tonnage moved in, out and across the state to double over the next two decades. This makes the need for quality physical infrastructure ever more critical to the success of our economy.

The ability to efficiently move freight will also play an ever more critical role in determining where companies choose to locate their operations. As the United States experiences population growth and the changes in consumer behavior are driving a rise in e-commerce, the ability to move freight will play a significant role in quality of life and sustainability of businesses.

Technological advances will dictate the need for more robust physical infrastructure in the future. Autonomous vehicle technologies, for example, will be dependent upon quality road surfaces and marking. Just like advances in vehicle technologies, the next generation of roadway transportation systems in the will be based on increased adoption of cloud based, wireless and Big Data technologies – all of which will require sustained sources of investment.

Q: Is there technology that will decrease the need for freight travel along roadways?

The future holds exciting new opportunities for moving freight in new modes of transit. One only has to look at the 11 newly-announced DOT routes for Hyperloop One to begin to imagine how we might be transporting freight in the future. Of course delivery of products using unmanned aerial vehicle technologies also hold great promise for extending the life of physical infrastructure with their avoidance of roadway use.

Q: The state has also been talking about the need for the harbor deepening in Charleston for quite some time. Where are we with that project?

Just last month, the project received $17.5 million in construction funding in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Fiscal Year 17 Work Plan allowing the project to begin this fall as scheduled and without delay. By the end of the decade, we will achieve 52 feet of depth and Charleston will be the deepest harbor on the East Coast. This depth advantage will provide South Carolina a competitive advantage for significant long-term volume growth in today’s mega-ship environment.

Q: A strong component of South Carolina’s economy is exports. Our location in the Southeastern United States and our strong port system is considered a competitive advantage for us. What do you see in the future for the maritime sector of the logistics industry?

The era of mega-ships is here – in the last 60 years, the size of the average vessel has increased more than 30-fold. Today, the ships are carrying up to 18,000 TEU with some estimates forecasting 24,000 TEU by 2018. The increased size of the ships dictates the need for more efficiency in vessel unloading, more available working space at port terminals and greater availability of warehousing and distribution. All of these needs are occurring at a time when the maritime industry continues to consolidate into larger alliances which adds to the complexity for freight logistics. Our SC Logistics TechTalk event later this year will feature organizations, like the New York Shipping Exchange (NYSHEX) who are focused on stabilizing and improving efficiencies in the industry. Make sure you join us September 13th in Charleston!

For more on SC Logistics Tech Talk, visit the event website>>

Suzanne Dickerson is the Director of Logistics Industry Initiatives for the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness. Suzanne joined the Council after serving for 8 years as the Director for International Business Development at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). She previously worked for 12 years within BMW in the fields of corporate sustainability, innovation management and long-term strategic and structural planning.