The S.C. State Ports Authority's second inland port is underway in the Pee Dee.
The ports authority broke ground Friday on the $40 million Dillon County project. The site will serve the Pee Dee and the Interstate 95 corridor; the port’s other inland facility, the nearly 4-year-old inland port in Greer, serves the Upstate near Interstates 26 and 85.
Inland Port Dillon will launch on 35 acres within the Carolinas I-95 Mega Site, a 3,400-acre industrial park situated between Dillon and Latta near the North Carolina border. The port owns about 150 acres within the industrial park for future expansions if needed.
Inland ports operate much like marine port terminals, except the containers are loaded onto trains rather than ships. CSX will service the Dillon site, running overnight service to the Port of Charleston.
The inland port in Greer operates similarly, with Norfolk Southern railway running overnight service to the port from the Upstate.
Politicians and port leaders said they anticipate more companies locating near the Dillon site to take advantage of the rail service and speed to market, spurring job creation for the Pee Dee. Ports authority CEO Jim Newsome and Gov. Henry McMaster joined Dillon officials, state senators and business leaders for the groundbreaking event.
“We look around and try to imagine what will come out of this. ... This area, this part of the state, will be transformed interminably. It won’t ever be the same again,” Sen. Hugh Leatherman said. “It opens up this part of the state.”
Newsome said he hopes the operation will boost cargo volumes at the Port of Charleston, as well as remove more trucks from the highways and help attract economic development to Dillon County. He said the port’s development of infrastructure with railroads is “the most efficient way to move containerized freight.”
“It’s something that can serve the Carolinas. North Carolina and South Carolina together have about 18 million people,” Newsome said. “Import cargo goes where people live and export cargo comes from manufacturing sites, and we have a rich combination of both.”
Dillon County Administrator Rodney Berry said the county is already receiving calls from interested companies, and he expects mostly retail and distribution centers to cluster around the inland port.
A steady cargo base is needed to create inland ports. Harbor Freight Tools, which operates a facility within the industrial park, will be the launch customer for the Dillon inland port. About 10,000 initial containers are expected from Harbor Freight, and about 45,000 containers are anticipated from companies overall during the first year of operation.
Inland Port Greer, which launched with BMW Manufacturing Co. has far exceeded initial projections, hitting a record of more than 103,000 rail lifts last year. The site is credited with helping recruit Dollar Tree Inc.’s distribution center in Cherokee and Spartanburg counties.
Newsome said he anticipates launching two more inland ports throughout the state. He declined to share which locations are under consideration.
Since the port announced the Dillon plans in April 2016, the initial design phase and permitting have been completed. Construction contracts will be awarded soon, with a slated opening of early 2018.
“This is a significant project for SCPA and our entire state,” ports authority Board Chairman Pat McKinney said in a news release. “Inland Port Dillon complements the port’s infrastructure investments in Charleston and will no doubt spur economic development activity both in the Pee Dee area and the surrounding region.”