Inland Port Delivers: New Dillon Facility is a Regional Economic Driver

Posted: March 8, 2019 at 7:00 am

The state’s newest inland port in Dillon, South Carolina, is fueling the local economy as cargo owners are presented a new avenue to maximize their supply network.

To local and regional business leaders, Inland Port Dillon is essential to the distribution process of cargo shipments. Some residents jokingly ask how a large container ship from the Port of Charleston can make it all the way inland to Dillon County and offload at the landlocked “port.”

The answer lies not only in the use of transportation by ship, but also by railroads. The Dillon facility is connected to the Port of Charleston by CSX Rail Line, where it transports retail goods and products to and from markets in and beyond South Carolina. It represents an economic development engine that was built to boost the fortunes of companies large and small that operate within a one-day drive of the facility.

For economic expansion proponents in Dillon and neighboring Marlboro, Marion, and Florence counties, the expectation is high. A future with more jobs, expanded economic development and business investments is credited to the present and upcoming success of inland Port Dillon.

As the port’s first anniversary approaches in April, the promise of a bustling commerce zone centered a short distance from I-95 is evident.

“Location, location, location was a key reason we enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to partner on the construction of Inland Port Dillon,” says William L. Fleming, Jr., president and CEO of Marlboro Electric Cooperative and Marlboro Development Team, Inc., MEC’s for-profit subsidiary. “Each of the counties nearby to Dillon will experience exciting economic development and job growth from the South Carolina Port Authority’s decision to extend its reach from Charleston to Dillon. The number of shipping containers with goods and products arriving and departing Dillon in 2018 underscores the promise for the future.”

Construction of Inland Port Dillon resulted from the success of a similar intermodal rail project that connected Upstate Greer with Charleston. Intermodal transportation means using at least two methods of transportation to move freight. Trucks transport containers carrying various products to Greer and Dillon ports where they are placed on Norfolk Southern Railway (Greer) or CSX (Dillon) rail lines. These containers form trains that are delivered to the Port of Charleston, where they are loaded onto ships for export. This process can operate in reverse as import goods arrive in Charleston. Upon arrival, they are moved by rail, and ultimately loaded onto trucks for transportation to their final destination.

Partnering with SCPA has proven beneficial for the state as a whole, and Inland Port Dillon expects to contribute to this success. A 2015 study by the Darla Moore School of Business estimates SCPA’s total statewide economic impact to be approximately $53 billion. The study also determined it is responsible for 1 in 11 jobs.

Closer to home, the same university study showed SCPA’s impact on the Pee Dee was $6.3 billion and 22,400 jobs even before the port in Dillon opened last April.

“Inland Port Dillon provides new intermodal capabilities that significantly expand the port’s reach into markets throughout the Carolinas, Northeast, and Midwest,” says Jim Newsome, president and CEO of SC Ports Authority. “It is a compliment to the capacity and infrastructure investments underway at port facilities in Charleston to accommodate bigger ships and overall growth of our volumes. We are confident that it will serve as a catalyst for job creation and economic development for the entire region well into the future.”

Although there are demonstrated economic benefits that come with building and operating an inland port, not every community can host such a facility. SCPA planners must first identify locations that meet certain criteria to ensure success: intermodal rail; a strong local business partner; and an anchor customer.

CSX, Marlboro Electric and Harbor Freight Tools were the ideal combination for SCPA to advance Inland Port Dillon.

“MEC provides reliable, low-cost power that helps the port maintain its competitive advantage and attract businesses with bulk shipping requirements,” Fleming says. “CSX and Harbor Freight are great partners. As a community, we are blessed that Dillon met SCPA’s criteria for success.”

Today, various goods and products are shipped between Dillon and Charleston. Harbor Freight is responsible for strong volumes of retail goods coming into Dillon, while the agriculture sector is aggressively expanding and moves cotton seed, soybeans, peanuts, logs and paper products south to Charleston.

There have also been investments in the local area to handle these opportunities, such as the new transload facility for soybean exports constructed and now operational at C&M Hog Farms in Dillon. Inland Port Dillon is involved in a number of other projects that are likely to come to fruition during the next few months.

It is often thought that economic benefits are shared only by local residents in a community where an inland port is built. However, job opportunities extend to people living outside the host city. Businesses seeking lower costs will often open branch offices, and new businesses may consider location on nearby open land.

As Inland Port Greer in the upstate has demonstrated, the economic development and job opportunities trickle out beyond the local region. In fact, companies with international supply chains can choose to locate near inland ports for more affordable land and higher work force availability while still enjoying the same benefits of a port user located near marine terminals.

Looking to the future of Inland Port Dillon, MEC and MDT are extremely optimistic. MDT recently completed a 110,000-square-foot, Class A industrial spec building 4 miles from the port that is also expandable to 400,000 square-feet. This location could support a modern manufacturer, food processor or logistics firm.

Container Maintenance Co. is building a chassis yard on land adjacent to the Dillon port to support increased truck traffic delivering containers for shipping on the CSX rail line, and to provide capabilities necessary for refrigerated container service and repair. A chassis yard would operate similar to a car rental company where drivers pull up cabs to the port, hook up to an empty chassis and load it with the container they’re hauling to its final destination.

In a couple of months Inland Port Dillon will reach its one-year milestone. The benefits from the inland port will affect MEC members in a substantial way. New job opportunities will be available to residents, and the port will buy its electricity from MEC. Additionally, MDT will compete for land sales and construction projects expected to surface as new businesses move to the region and port activity increases.

While the inland port provides economic opportunity far beyond Dillon, MEC members can look forward to a brighter future–one that will offer an improved quality of life for them, their children and generations to come.