September 16, 2019 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
I’ve covered the “State of the Port” address in Savannah
about six or seven times now. The
meeting hosted by the Georgia Ports Authority and the Savannah chapter of the Propeller
Club of the United States fills the Savannah Convention Center ballroom to
capacity every year.
It’s a room where economic interests meet political
power. In attendance this year were
Governor Brian Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston, Agriculture
Commissioner Gary Black, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The performance of Georgia’s ports is an unmitigated
success story, and it is now annual custom to not only celebrate the past
successes, but to hear what is next.
For most of the past years the address has been a model of
predictability. The annual year over
year growth of container traffic has been hovering around seven percent for a
while – significantly faster than other ports’ rate of growth. “Ro-Ro” automobile shipments continue to show
strong growth in and out of Brunswick and Savannah as well.
Each year there are details about what the Ports Authority
is doing to make the ports more efficient.
Realigned and expanded rail terminals, larger and more environmentally
sensitive cranes, and road realignments for direct access to and from freeways
don’t excite the general public much.
There is general theme that has developed, however, that
resonates beyond the 1,500 or so folks that will sit in a packed ballroom and
listen to a presentation about “TEU growth”.
Simply put, the Georgia Ports Authority continues to grow by investing
in its own efficiency. In doing so, they’re
creating jobs not just in Georgia’s coastal area, but beyond.
A couple of examples of Economic Development successes
directly related to the port deserve to be highlighted here. California based Plastic Express announced in
April that it will invest $172 Million to build a facility in Pooler Georgia
near the Port of Savannah. It will
employ 100 initially, growing to nearly 200 jobs in a couple of years. The average pay for these positions will be
between fifty to sixty thousand dollars per year, according to the Savannah
Morning News. Plastic Express will
become the Port of Savannah’s biggest single customer by volume.
The jobs, however, aren’t all along the coast. General Electric is building a distribution center
in Chatsworth, to be near the new Murray County “Inland Port” in the North
Georgia mountains. The Ports Authority
has been building inland port intermodal facilities with direct rail from the
Ports to locations where containers can be transferred from train to truck well
inland – getting trucks off of Georgia’s highways in the process.
Those are just two specific examples. The Port says that just in the last year,
there were 68 port related projects resulting in $5 Billion in investment,
creating 12,000 jobs. And there’s more
to come. A lot more.
This year they didn’t announce 7% growth. Container traffic was up 17%. This increase in the rate of growth has
allowed Savannah to eclipse Seattle-Tacoma to become the third largest container
port in the country. Savannah now
handles one in every five containers shipped along the east coast.
Georgia Ports are now competing with west coast ports for
customers in Chicago and other upper Midwest locations. Because of the focus on efficiency between
the ship and the port gates, a customer can ship goods from Asia through the
Panama Canal to Savannah and still have them arrive in the central US as fast
or faster than using ports along the West Coast.
Which brings us to the real news of the week. Savannah’s growth rate was projected to have
the port reach capacity in a decade.
With the port growing faster, that would come even sooner if nothing
were done. Doing nothing isn’t GPA’s
The Georgia Ports Authority plans to develop land on
Hutchinson Island and build a new ship terminal large enough for three more
ships, plus realign their current dock for additional capacity. The plan is to double capacity – again.
The additional capacity will ensure the same story can
continue to be told for years to come. Relentless pursuit of incremental improvements
will continue to create jobs across the state of Georgia.