The South Carolina State Ports Authority is a state-owned enterprise established by the General Assembly in 1942 to create and operate seaports in Charleston, Georgetown, and Port Royal. Charleston is South Carolina’s principal seaport, with five terminals and a sixth planned for the city’s former U.S. Navy Base. As of 2004 Charleston ranked fourth in the United States for the number of containers handled and sixth for the value of its cargo, with $90 million worth of cargo crossing its docks on average every day.
Georgetown’s cargoes consist mainly of cement, salt, and steel. Port Royal has also handled bulk commodities but has increasingly become less viable as a port. In 2004 the General Assembly directed the State Ports Authority to sell the Port Royal property and use the proceeds to help pay for the new terminal in Charleston.
The State Ports Authority is governed by a board of nine members appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate for seven-year terms. It does not receive an annual appropriation from the state, although it can petition the assembly for state support through general obligation bonds for major capital projects.
The economic impact of the state’s port facilities has been immense. A 2002 study showed employment tied to the port of 281,000 jobs across the state and $23 billion in total annual economic impact. Each year people in port-related jobs earn $9.4 billion in personal income. Tax revenues annually total $2.5 billion. More than seven hundred businesses, representing every county in the state, use the port system. While many of the companies using the port are large international companies, two-thirds are small entrepreneurs.
The South Carolina State Ports Authority manages its own facilities with its own employees, who are state employees. It operates its own equipment and works through its sales force to attract cargo and steamship lines. As a public port, many transportation businesses such as freight forwarders, stevedoring firms, and trucking companies benefit from being able to enter port facilities as part of their daily work.
The port of Charleston has earned a reputation for efficiency and service. Major steamship lines have been attracted by the port’s high productivity and offer regular and frequent service to all parts of the world. This service serves as an economic development tool for attracting new businesses to the state and as a boon to companies already operating in South Carolina.
South Carolina State Ports Authority. History of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. Charleston, S.C.: by the author, 1991.