Economic Development in S.C.

UPS offers ‘plant’ tours to Columbia business clients

rburris@thestate.comApril 26, 2013 

— United Parcel Service gave half a dozen companies an insider’s view Friday of its West Columbia air and ground package shipping plant, which is a major cog of the transportation giant’s worldwide operations.

The Midlands event followed a tour Thursday of operations at the Port of Charleston. Together, the events were meant to highlight the importance of transportation to business and economic development in South Carolina.

“The intention is to expose our customers to the total portfolio of service solutions that UPS has to offer when it comes to growing and expanding their international markets,” said Tracey Flemmings, spokeswoman for UPS International.

“It’s important for our customers to see and understand the value that we bring to them to help them service their customers and also grow and expand business, offer jobs and just support the whole global economy.

The companies were invited from North and South Carolina.

The 314,000-square-foot air and international operation in West Columbia is one of six UPS regional air hubs and directs international shipments to Chicago and Canadian destinations, including Fort Erie, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The plant operates three shifts and employs about 500 workers.

“When you make that purchase at 11 o’clock at night, like at Verizon (Wireless) and they pack it up and it comes back to you the next day, that happens because that package comes in on a plane, like, at 3 o’clock in the morning and we’ve got a crew already ready to attack all sides of that airplane,” said Donna Bright, UPS ramp supervisor at the Hub Facility. “It happens right here.”

For some of the touring businesses, it was an opportunity to ponder improved delivery options for the raw materials their small companies rely on to produce the goods and services they sell.

For others, the two-day tour was a chance to check up on one of the most vital parts of their businesses.

“International purchasing has come to the forefront,” said Sandra Story, supply chain director for Elks Products in Connellys Springs, N.C., who visited the UPS Air Hub Facility Friday. “We’re all buying overseas now.”

Wanting to consolidate her company’s freight operations, Story, who has been in purchasing more than 20 years, said she came looking for price and efficiency that tops what she currently is getting. “I’m considering UPS, for several reasons,” she said.

The shipping giant has expanded its international shipping offerings, Story said, so recipient can dictate how quickly they want to receive their freight, based of course, on how much they want to spend.

Chan Bohacheff, supply chain director for Snap AV, a custom residential electronics supplier based in Charlotte, said the two-day tour left her with homework to do.

“It’s eye-opening for me to understand what’s real operating and not just what’s on paper,” said Bohacheff, who oversees the company’s global supply chain, ocean and airfreight, but had never seen the innards of the transportation network she relies on.

Snap AV doesn’t currently use UPS as its shipper, but Bohacheff said she learned airfreight costs were 30 percent lower with UPS for another of the companies invited to the West Columbia tour Friday. Her company gets 20 percent of its airfreight from overseas, she said, primarily from China and Taiwan.

“That’s a big volume for me to consider,” Bohacheff said. “I am definitely going to go back and dig into (this) for the cost structure standpoint, but not only cost. I want to take a look at the transit time – whether UPS can provide a more consistent transit time.”

UPS, located on either side of S.C. 302 at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, said it has conducted one such open house tour in the past.

Shelby Walker, purchasing manager for PLICard, the world’s largest manufacturer of hotel key cards, also attended the tour.

“We’ve been working with UPS (for years), but this year we’ve decided to become stronger partners, to sort of band the partnership,” Walker said.

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