Metglas, Inc., whose plant in Conway manufactures a metal used to make energy-efficient electrical transformers, announced Friday it will soon begin importing steel billets through the port of Georgetown from three foreign suppliers.
The 17,000 tons of new cargo will create six more ship calls each year, the biggest new import account for the port in nearly a decade.
But the deal almost didn't happen. At just 19 feet deep, Georgetown's harbor is so shallow it took Metglas a year to work out a way to accommodate it.
"We had to find a ship in a ship line that would take smaller portions of steel so it weighed less, so it did not draw as much water, because the port of Georgetown right now can't take deep ships," said Metglas CEO Dodd Smith.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates it would cost $33 million over 3 years to dredge the port to a depth of 27 feet. Georgetown's mayor says if that happened, it would produce a hefty economic payoff.
"Studies have shown as many as 4,000 jobs would be directly created in this area, and when I say this area, I mean the entire Pee Dee region," said Mayor Jack Scoville.
Until now, Metglas has shipped its raw material through Charleston. The company is making the move to the Georgetown port to save money, and if the port is dredged, Smith says it could save even more.
"It would allow us to use bigger ships, which means, if you have more ships, you have more competition and you have more options."
But that's in the future. For now, state port officials are just happy to get new business.
"Stevedores, longshoremen, truckers, pilots, the tug companies, they're under-employed. We need more business in this port and that's why today is such a great announcement," said SC State Ports Authority public relations director Bryon Miller.
The first Metglas shipment is expected to come through Georgetown Nov. 5.