The complexities of worldwide logistics are becoming increasingly relevant to the global economy. When a pandemic shuts down ports and then spikes demand for containerized freight, disruptions and unpredictability rein across the supply chain.
Similarly, when labor strife closes key ports for even brief periods of time, the shippers that depend on those ports experience delays — which naturally inspires them to search for more stable alternatives to the impacted ports.
Maritime ports on the U.S. West Coast have experienced a run of challenges that now stretches 3 years’ long. After finally eliminating the backlog of ships sitting off the coast of Southern California, a labor issue has undermined West Coast ports’ reliability throughout 2023.
East Coast ports are eager to take advantage — Charleston chief among them.
Charleston and South Carolina Ports overall have experienced record-setting volume in the past year. Recent headlines suggest that new investment in the area will give Charleston and South Carolina Ports greater capacity to handle even more volume in the future.
Vizion’s port performance data demonstrates why shippers and the logistics service providers (LSPs) that work with them would be interested in ports like Charleston as alternatives to the West Coast. Here’s a rundown of the data, including import volume and port performance metrics that compare Los Angeles and Long Beach to Charleston.
Volatile vs. Stable TEU Volumes
One key observation in import data for the last year is the predictability of TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) volume at the Port of Charleston compared to the volatility at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Charleston's TEU volume has remained relatively stable, providing consistency and predictability for shippers. This contrasts with Los Angeles and Long Beach, which have seen their TEU volumes fluctuate considerably.
Predictability is vital in logistics and supply chain management. The more predictable and stable the volume, the easier it is to plan, manage inventories, and maintain lean and efficient supply chains. Therefore, the consistency of the Port of Charleston might be an attractive proposition for retailers and other shippers seeking greater reliability in their operations.
Of course, an influx of demand might be difficult for Charleston to handle, though the new investments described above should help expand Charleston’s capacity for future volume.
Average Time From Vessel Arrival to Container Gate-Out
Another significant consideration is the time that passes between a vessel’s arrival and containers from that vessel gating out from terminals. Our data from July 2022 to June 2023 indicates that it takes an average of 5.3 days at the Port of Charleston, compared to 10.9 days at Los Angeles and 8.7 days at Long Beach.
This faster turnaround time at Charleston is another substantial benefit for shippers. The quicker a container gates out, the sooner it can reach its final destination, reducing transit times, inventory costs, and overall lead times.
Infrastructure Expansion at the Port of Charleston
As noted above, the South Carolina Ports Authority has made significant infrastructure investments in recent years, broadening their capabilities and enhancing their ability to handle more volume. These enhancements, totaling $2 billion over the past six years, aim to accommodate future growth in mega-containership activity.
Recent developments include a new $50 million cold storage facility near the Port of Charleston, marking FlexCold's first cold storage location in South Carolina. Private organizations like FlexCold are no doubt aiming to capture a portion of the opportunity driven by the nearly 3 million TEU handled by South Carolina Ports in 2022. Such expansions further strengthen the Port of Charleston's ability to handle diverse cargo types and potentially attract more shipping traffic.
East Coast ports in the United States increased their import volume advantage throughout last winter, as highlighted in our post on the impact of West Coast labor issues. That advantage started to wane in spring 2023, but efforts like those in Charleston plus lingering reservations about West Coast reliability could spark additional growth in the East Coast's advantage in the last half of 2023.
Let Port Performance Data Guide Your Supply Chain Decision-Making
The data above is just a portion of what Vizion captures from its many data sources. Today, shippers and LSPs are connecting Vizion’s data to their ERPs, TMSs, and other software systems so that supply chain decision-makers can quickly identify emerging issues and redirect cargo as needed.
Understanding port performance can be a game-changer in managing your supply chain efficiently. Vizion's port performance data provides an invaluable resource for you to make informed decisions based on comprehensive, real-time information.
Interested in connecting Vizion data to your existing systems? Get in touch to speak with one of our supply chain experts.