Visitors touring a 180,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse and distribution center in North Charleston asked whether they really needed to wear the large, orange parkas provided, when most had been pouring sweat in the June heat moments before.
The tour guide assured them the temperature was about to drop quickly and to expect glasses and camera equipment to fog up as they moved from 0 degrees’ cold storage to a quick glimpse inside the 20-below blast freezer.
Lineage Logistics officially introduced the company’s cold-storage distribution center at Palmetto Commerce Park on Wednesday along with state, local and industry officials. The North Charleston location — with its 5.3 million cubic feet of temperature-controlled space — technically opened in April after about four years of planning and construction.
The land was originally purchased by Millard Refrigerated Services. When Millard was acquired by Lineage in 2014, the North Charleston site was slated to become one of the company’s 112 logistics centers across the United States.
S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said the Lineage blast freezer was already at 100% capacity, demonstrating the existing demand for the center’s services. Newsome said that a refrigerated distribution center was one of the pieces lacking in the Charleston area’s logistics infrastructure and that the opening represented one of the most important days in the seven years he’s been on the job.
“The only missing component that we had, in particular in this segment of business, was a world-class, private-sector logistics partner that specialized in refrigerated, cold-storage business,” Newsome said.
Newsome said the opening of the $150 million distribution center represented how the sector should work with the port, making investments along with shipping, trucking and rail lines, and with county and municipal support.
“Very importantly, we have a city that’s open for business in the city of North Charleston. Whenever we bring something here, they’re responsive,” Newsome said.
Stacks and stacks of Smithfield hams ready to be exported to China filled part of Lineage’s cavernous logistics center. General Manager John Greenlee said the company uses five robots to move products into place for storage in 2,700 positions in floor-to-ceiling holding racks.
Greenlee demonstrated one of the robots, which looks like a flat rolling device about twice the size of a laptop that is covered with sensors and lights to detect what it’s hauling and that understands where to place items.
The company also uses electric forklifts with an enclosed cabin to keep workers warm while moving cargo. Jim Romine, senior director of engineering for Lineage, said the company cannot use propane-fueled forklifts because the refrigeration requires the walls and ceiling to be airtight. Condensation or air leaks can cause costs to increase and can make ice and snow form inside the distribution center.
S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the state has been supportive of this and other logistics projects as part of South Carolina’s economic development strategy. He said when Newsome called to push for refrigerated services, Commerce saw opportunity.
“Since 2011 when we came in, we have had 40 transportation, distribution, logistics firms announced capital investments in this state just shy of $800 million, bringing more than 5,500 new jobs into our state,” Hitt said “This is a major part of who we are in South Carolina.”
Mike McClendon, Lineage’s vice president of network optimization, echoed Hitt’s focus on logistics and distribution and said the Port of Charleston had become a port of choice for many because the port can handle some of the largest ships in the world.
“The value of this location cannot be underestimated as we move forward as a community,” he said, adding that the North Charleston facility can accommodate 50 million pounds of product. “It’s one of our most sophisticated facilities across the Lineage network.”