SC PORT CARVES OUT A NICHE FOR ITSELF

SC PORT CARVES OUT A NICHE FOR ITSELF

Back in 1791, an unimpeachable source noted in his diary that George Town seems to be in the shade of Charleston.

George Washington's description of Georgetown's commercial activity was as true then as it was when the port was established in 1732 and as it is today at this town of some 11,000 residents about 60 miles north of Charleston.But over the past four years, the port of Georgetown managed to carve out a comfortable niche for itself in Charleston's shadow.

A record volume of 788,592 tons of breakbulk and bulk cargoes moved through Georgetown in 1987, a gain of 18 percent over the 1986 volume, the previous record year.

With a new cement silo and a salt bagging facility coming on line this spring, Port Director D. Claude Baker said Georgetown may reach 1 million tons this year and definitely by 1989.

The port's cargo volume has doubled since 1984, when 392,442 tons moved through Georgetown. That's particularly significant because 1984 was when the South Carolina State Ports Authority decided to invest $3.5 million in upgrading and expanding its Georgetown terminal. This had long been ignored while the port authority sank hundreds of millions of dollars into the port of Charleston.

The investment more than doubled Georgetown's former public docking space by adding a 700-foot berth. It also paid to connect a new 43,000-square-fo ot addition to the existing 60,000-square-foot warehouse and to build two lumber transit sheds totaling 25,500 square feet.

The port authority also established a port authority office at the port to oversee the expansion and operations, as well as to market Georgetown as a breakbulk and bulk cargo specialty port. Mr. Baker left his post as port authority operations director in Charleston to become Georgetown port director.

The port authority narrowed the bulk and breakbulk focus still further by deciding to concentrate initially on trade with the Caribbean and South America because, Mr. Baker explained, the shallow-draft ports there matched up well with Georgetown.

The overseas marketing efforts weren't an immediate success, partly

because Georgetown officials first had to explain where Georgetown is located. Eventually the business began to pick up, especially for Brazilian mahogany.

It didn't happen overnight, but South America knows where we are now, Mr. Baker said.

The success with Brazilian lumber led to a few Canadian lumber accounts. This generated interest in a U.S.-Canada forest products seminar. Shippers, buyers, stevedores and agents got together to work out their problems with cargo handling.

As a result, Mr. Baker said, lumber handling at Georgetown has improved and a second seminar is planned for Vancouver this year.

The port authority's investment in time and money didn't lead to the port's turnaround all by itself, however.

Also in 1984, the Georgetown Steel Corp.'s direct reduction plant came back on line after a two-year shutdown. Georgetown Steel leases from the port authority a 600-foot dock, across which move a few hundred thousand tons of iron ore, from which the direct reduction plant removes the oxygen to produce a higher quality grade of product for use at the local mill and others.

Even so, all those efforts may not have done much to improve Georgetown's fortunes had not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed a few bends in the Sampit River to allow ships up to 700 feet in length to call the port. Five hundred feet was the maximum ship length the 27-foot-deep channel could accommodate before the corps project.

The Georgetown port community had been pleading for years for channel improvements, but the corps needed some justification, which the port authority's ante provided, Mr. Baker said.

Although the $3.5 million spent on the port is not a large sum compared with the money invested at other ports, including Charleston, it still bought the most significant terminal improvements at Georgetown since the early 1960s.

Quite frankly, Georgetown was ignored by the port authority, Mr. Baker said. There never was a constant concentrated effort to revitalize the port until 1984.