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Port of Charleston
Firm opens warehouse for frozen foods in Charleston regionA new refrigerated warehouse that opened Thursday near Summerville could help Charleston's shipping industry catch up with the Port of Savannah, which has become a kingpin in the cold-storage business for the past decade.
Atlanta-based Agro Merchants Group is leasing a portion of the former Piggly Wiggly distribution center, which Agro has upgraded with high-tech freezing equipment and a Department of Agriculture inspection room.
The 121,000-square-foot facility more than doubles the amount of cold-storage space available in the Charleston market, which could encourage more importers and exporters of meat and other fresh foods to use the local port rather than Savannah.
"In some respect, we are taking a risk by coming to a market like this because we are putting a lot of pallet positions in a space that's going to be competing with a more mature market in Savannah," said Chris Hughes, president of Agro Merchants Group. "But I happen to think that, because of all the things the port has to offer here, and the fact that our customers have told us, 'Hey, we really want to be in Charleston,' ... we think it's a really good spot for us."
The Port of Charleston had about 9 percent of the refrigerated cargo market share last year, while Savannah had 28 percent. The State Ports Authority said recently that it hopes to catch up with its Georgia rival by supporting and investing in more cold-storage facilities like Agro, whose temperature-controlled space near Interstate 26 and Jedburg Road has enough room to store 14,000 pallets.
Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SPA, said Thursday on Twitter that Agro Merchants is a "world class facility to support the import/export cold chain."
The SPA is contributing $12 million toward the expansion of the New Orleans Cold Storage property on Remount Road in North Charleston. Also, California-based Lineage Logistics is reviving a stalled plan to build a 340,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse in Palmetto Commerce Park between Ladson and Ashley Phosphate roads.
Agro was formed early last year. With financial partner Oaktree Capital Management, it operates more than 1.8 million square feet of refrigerated warehouse space.
Its new facility near Summerville will employ about 70 workers, Hughes said, and a number of them worked at the former Piggly Wiggly warehouse.
"We worked closely with Piggly Wiggly to ensure we could transition as many of those employees as possible," Hughes said. "They know the facility, they're trained on forklifts and such, so it's mutually beneficial because it shortens the learning curve for us, and it makes sure that fewer of those people are out of jobs."
Publication date: 9/12/2014
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