MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) – From 2009 to 2022, the South Carolina Ports Authority went from a struggling port to one of the leading ports in the United States. Coming out of the recession, state leaders tasked Jim Newsome — a long-time shipping industry executive — with reinvigorating the state’s ports.
The last 13 years of Newsome’s 45-year career have been spent building up proficiency at South Carolina’s ports.
He found a love for shipping at an early age, working with his dad at the Port of Savannah. Newsome says his career was more like an adventure than a nine to five.
“We worked every Saturday, and I went with him from, Gosh, the age of five or six until, you know, I was a teenager when I didn’t want to do it anymore,” says Newsome.
A love for shipping took Newsome to Knoxville to study at the University of Tennessee. Then he worked in Houston, New York City, and Atlanta before finally landing in Charleston in 2009.
At the time, South Carolina’s Ports were experiencing a downturn, struggling to keep customers. Newsome signed up for the turnaround.
“You only grow in life when responsibility is thrust into your lap,” says Newsome. “You know maybe sometimes we’re not even ready for it so I believe I was well prepared.”
The U.S. economy was recovering from the recession. The Port, which was experiencing dropping numbers, wasn’t built for an expanding industry and with ships set to triple in size in the coming years, Newsome knew they had to get ahead of the trend.
“We had to make up our minds that we were going to spend the cash we had to build infrastructure and do it rather quickly because we were behind,” says Newsome.
The Ports Authority has poured five hundred million into the Wando Terminal, 2 billion dollars into building Hugh Leatherman Terminal, and built inland ports all since 2009. In 2016, officials secured the Harbor Deepening project, all were steps seen as needed to welcome some of the world’s largest ships.
“It sort of got us pointed back in the right direction and proved that we could handle the big ships,” says Newsome.
The growth and success brought leaders together and promoted industry growth around the Lowcountry. It was a challenge that never intimidated Newsome, he says high expectations are something he’s built an award-winning career on.
“So it’s been a, I’d say a quick 13 years but time obviously flies and we’ve had a lot to do but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished up to now and I think that the port is in a good position going forward,” says Newsome.
Newsome is ready to find his next journey, leaving the ports after what could be 15 straight months of record growth. Newsome will turn the keys over to Barbara Melvin, someone he’s worked with closely over the last ten years.
And while Newsome believes Melvin will keep containers and ships moving at a record pace, he says she’ll have her own obstacles right out of the gate.
“The port is well positioned but the challenges remain,” says Newsome. “I mean you are never assured of your success in business and you always have to be on guard. We need land for distribution centers, but the trucking issue is still a challenge. We have to continue to grow our workforce.”
From a once struggling port to an industry leader nationwide, Newsome offers strong advice and a depth of knowledge. Mixed in are jokes and a soft smile for Newsome who is still remembering his days at the ports as a kid.
“I’m glad I took the job,” says Newsome. “I think it’s been, you know I have the good fortune of saying that I’ve really never had a boring day in my career. Always had challenges so what more can you ask for? I don’t live in a world of regrets.”
Newsome will officially retire at the end of June. As for what’s next, he says he’s flown more than five million miles for work throughout his career, he has no plans to hit six million. Instead, he will spend more time with his two children and their families who recently moved within driving distance of Newsome and his wife.