Two East Coast Ports Developing Inland Facilities
Larry Thomas -- Furniture Today, March 18, 2013
HIGH POINT - Two East Coast ports that are heavily used by furniture importers are developing inland facilities that allow importers to avoid port congestion and pick up their containers more than 200 miles from the ocean.
The new facilities, which are being developed by ports in Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C., utilize Norfolk Southern rail lines to deliver the goods to the inland sites, where they are picked up by the importer and transported to the importer's warehouse.
The Norfolk port opened an intermodal site about 250 miles away in Greensboro, N.C., last fall that counts Stanley Furniture as its biggest customer, while the South Carolina Ports Authority broke ground earlier this month on a full-scale inland port near Greer, S.C., that will connect to the Port of Charleston some 212 miles away.
Officials of the two ports say the inland sites give port users better access to their goods, and helps trim freight costs since rail transport allows them to maximize the tonnage moved per gallon of fuel.
"Furniture is our number one commodity coming into the port," said Tom Capozzi, vice president of Global Sales at Virginia International Terminals, which operates the Norfolk Port. "Our Greensboro intermodal service is another way furniture importers can utilize our facilities."
Since the Greensboro site opened in October, Stanley has routed nearly all of its containers to the facility, said Steve Wolfe, the company's vice president of global supply chain and logistics.
"It certainly saves us some money ... and helps the environment since it gets a lot of trucks off the road," he said.
Once the product is in Greensboro, Stanley hires drayage companies to move the containers by truck to its distribution center in Martinsville, Va., which is about an hour away, Wolfe said. The truck chassis to which the containers are attached are maintained by Virginia International Terminals.
In addition to the savings on freight costs, Capozzi said Stanley is eligible for a $50 Virginia state tax credit for each 40-foot container brought into the port. Although the company is moving its corporate headquarters from Stanleytown, Va., to Greensboro this spring, Stanley remains eligible for the tax credit because the distribution center is staying in Martinsville, he said.
Wolfe said the shipping lines that bring the containers to the United States from Asia initially were reluctant to participate in the venture. They feared the empty containers would sit idle in Greensboro because there were no exporters to fill them up for a return trip.
However, the lines have been able to find exporters, and the containers aren't sitting empty for lengthy periods, he said.
"It has worked out very well for us," Wolfe said. "We have to add an extra two or three days to our total transit time, but as long as we stay on top of our scheduling and our demand forecasts, that isn't a problem."
The South Carolina facility, meanwhile, is slated to open Sept. 1 near the small town of Greer, which is between Greenville and Spartanburg along the I-85 corridor.
South Carolina port officials said the area is the fastest-growing part of the socalled "upstate region" of the state and is situated between the key markets of Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta.
The upstate region already has the largest concentration of port users in South Carolina, said Jim Newsome, CEO of the Ports Authority, noting that 94 million consumers live within a one-day drive of the area.
"We are impressed at the level of interest in this project from both current and prospective customers of the port," Newsome said. "As the Southeast region continues to lead the nation in exporting, and as e-commerce distribution grows, the inland port will be positioned to speed the flow of commerce and serve as a catalyst for investment in the surrounding area."
Newsome said the Ports Authority will dismantle and move three rubber-tired gantry cranes from Charleston to the inland port to stack containers in the 40-acre container yard in Greer. The yard will have 552 slots for containers and an initial capacity of about 40,000 containers annually.
"This project leverages the best capabilities of Norfolk Southern and the Ports Authority and will provide new cost-effective, rail-based intermodal solutions that should benefit all of the shippers in the upstate South Carolina region," said Mike McClellan, the railroad's vice president of intermodal and automotive marketing.
The inland port will include two 2,600-foot working tracks linked to Norfolk Southern's nearby main line, as well as 5,200 feet of storage tracks with room for future expansion.
The project is costing about $35 million. The Ports Authority has contracted with Illinoisbased CenterPoint Properties to develop the site. CenterPoint earlier developed an inland port in Joliet, Ill., that is the largest inland port in North America.
- May 23, 2012