Metglas deal means business for Georgetown Harbor

The port of Georgetown will get a boost of new business, and a Conway-based manufacturer will get more efficient delivery of its materials in what all sides call a sizeable win-win.

The struggling port will log 17,000 more tons a year brought in on a total of six ships bringing steel billets for Metglas Inc. of Conway, officials announced Friday in a packed ceremony on the downtown waterfront.

Metglas is a $120 million company that exports all over the world. It has 228 employees in Conway and uses a glass-metal alloy to make amorphous metal ribbon and components used in the production of electrical distribution transformers, high-frequency magnetic components for power electronics and related products.

The agreement shifts shipments of the steel to Georgetown from Wilmington, N.C.’s port and while it doesn’t save much money yet, the change makes receiving goods more efficient for Metglas, said president and CEO Dodd Smith.

The new tonnage helps Georgetown build its case for federal money to deepen the shipping channel. The funds are based on port use, which slipped years ago but is beginning to come back.

The announcement was made in the S.C. Maritime Museum, with a view of the water and across Goat Island to the tops of the structures at the port.

“This is the first major import cargo account in probably a decade,” said Byron Miller, vice president of marketing and sales support for the State Ports Authority.

The port, the smallest of two in the state, has lost business over the years and its channel has filled in so it can no longer offer a standard 27-foot depth that many smaller cargo ships use. Federal port dredging money will not likely come unless the port can get more business. The port needs to handle about 1 million tons a year to get the money.

A decade ago the port logged over a million tons of imports and exports but that dropped drastically in recent years. Still, things are looking up, Miller said.

Last fiscal year, the port tallied 548,919 tons, up 98 percent from the previous year.

And more could be coming soon, he said. The steel that Metglas will receive through Georgetown is from Canada. In January, the SPA snagged the shipment Metglas also receives from Brazil. That supply is arriving at the port of Charleston, but officials are trying to shift that cargo to Georgetown, Miller said.

Smith said the cargo switch was complicated because of the channel depth, and it took some time to book a ship small enough for the job. The ship is registered in Holland, he said.

The new imports are not expected to create a significant number of new jobs, but will provide more work for existing companies. Metglas will use Allen’s Scrap Metal of Loris to truck the cargo to Conway, and Liberty Terminals of Georgetown to unload the ships, said Kevin Phillips, supply chain manager for Metglas.

Phillips, a Charleston native, said the shipping change idea began when he wondered if the steel could come into his home state rather than Wilmington.

But the deal was put together with the cooperation of economic development alliances in both Horry and Georgetown counties, as well as the local governments and SPA.

Smith, who chairs the Horry County Alliance, said he is a history buff and the port’s story intrigued him. Before the Revolution, indigo was shipped from Georgetown, and later it sent out rice, then lumber and other products.

“So the port’s steeped in history, which I think is really neat,” Smith said.

Using the port supports a local facility and saves money on transportation costs to get the materials, he said. It is also more efficient because the material can be stored at the port and brought to Metglas as needed. The company has been getting a large amount of the steel at one time, more than it can handle efficiently at its plant, Smith said.

The new business will spark interest from other companies, several speakers said, and the SPA is marketing the port aggressively, Miller said.

“We’re going after barge traffic and small vessels,” he said.

The event drew a number of politicians. Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice, who is seeking the new congressional district seat, alluded to one of his campaign refrains in calling the new cargo deal an example of government enhancing business rather than obstructing it.

Solicitor Greg Hembree, who is running for state Senate, said, “This is just as important to Horry County as it is to Georgetown County.”