By Chuck Crumbo
Published March 20, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The transportation, distribution and logistics industry contributes to 47,000 direct jobs in South Carolina and generates $1.6 billion a year in wages, according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Commerce.
Fifteen projects involving companies in the TDL industry were announced in 2012, accounting for 2,200 jobs and a $370 million investment, Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said Thursday during a presentation at the third annual TDL Summit in Columbia.
Overall, the 2,600 firms in South Carolina’s TDL industry generate $3.5 billion in total sales, added David Clayton, director of Commerce’s research division.
|David Clayton, director of the S.C. Commerce research division|
One of the challenges in breaking out economic impact statistics of the TDL industry is that it’s integral to everything that’s going on in the state, Clayton said. “You can’t have commerce without transportation.”
Logistics, particularly its network of interstate highways, is a strong selling point of South Carolina.
A survey of corporate chiefs by Area Development magazine ranked highway accessibility as the most important factor in locating a manufacturing facility. Shipping costs ranked No. 11; proximity to a major airport No. 21; rail service No. 25; and ocean port accessibility No. 26.
Clayton noted that two-thirds of all available industrial sites — from five to 10 acres to a few thousand acres — in South Carolina are within seven miles of one interstate highway, and half are within seven miles of two interstates.
Five years ago the standard used to be within five miles of an interstate, Clayton said. That standard had to be expanded to seven miles because the prime manufacturing space has been acquired.
About 90% of all sites are within an hour of a commercial airport, offering ready access to passenger and freight service.
“Logistics means jobs,” Hitt said. “I don’t care what sector we’re talking about, whether it’s manufacturing, service, medicine, you name it, it all has to move, and it has to move around as quickly as possible.”
The quality of the transportation, distribution and logistics industry, commonly called TDL, is a key cog in the state’s economic engine. It also is an important factor in a company’s decision to build or expand a plant in South Carolina, Hitt said.
“We don’t need to be as good as anybody else,” Hitt said. “We need to be better.”
Still, the state has transportation issues that need urgent attention, Hitt and other speakers said at the summit. The top priority among business leaders is fixing a $29 billion funding shortfall over the next 20 years needed to repair roads, replace bridges and invest in mass transit and rail transportation.
What manufacturers need is the ability to ship their goods quickly, efficiently, safely and at the lowest possible cost, Hitt said.
“We have to get this right,” Hitt said. “We have a window to develop the port,” he said, referring to plans to deepen Charleston Harbor to accommodate post-Panamax ships without relying on high tides at the Port of Charleston.
“We have a window to be ready to manage it, and we have a window to move most every tire made in the world pretty soon,” Hitt said.
With the construction of Continental’s new tire plant in Sumter and expansions of Bridgestone and Michelin’s operations in the state, South Carolina will become the nation’s No. 1 tire producer by 2015.
“They’re counting on us to get this right,” Hitt said. “We have to get better and better and better because the types of companies we’re recruiting are demanding that you get better and better.”