Georgia Ports Now Number One For Exports

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Checking my inbox this week, I had an email from a political consultant with the subject line “All we do is win, win, win”.  Hubris is often on full display with consultants after a successful primary season, but I’d likely hear “it ain’t bragging if you can back it up” from this particular operative if I called him on it.  His firm’s track record is well established.

It was the email under that one that most intrigued me, however.  The tone of the announcement was a bit more subtle, but the track record is well documented and amazingly consistent.  When it seems the Georgia Ports Authority is running out of ways to trumpet new records, they just find new ways to show what winning looks like.

Photo courtesy of Georgia Ports Authority

“Savannah top port for U.S. Exports” was the subject line from the Georgia Ports Authority this week.  Subtle but straight to the point, the announcement punctuates years of consistent growth in container traffic in and out of Savannah, with an emphasis on Georgian and American goods being sold to the rest of the world.

With more than 12 percent of all containers shipped for export for the first five months of the year, Savannah has surpassed both Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey as the largest point of origin for America’s customers.  This follows on a June announcement that Savannah’s port had become the country’s largest for export of agricultural products.

Agriculture exports have helped fuel the ports’ growth.  Cotton exports increased 61% last year.  Wood pulp and kaolin clay also saw double digit increases. 

This isn’t just a regional story for southeast Georgia.  The Appalachian Regional (Inland) Port in Northwest Georgia’s Murray County moved three and a half times the cargo in FY 2020 than it did the year before.  The growing system of “inland ports” – where containers are moved from truck to train on their way to Savannah – will allow the ports to continue to grow while diverting truck traffic from the already congested highways of metro Atlanta. 

Savannah’s imports have directly helped our export business.  That’s how trade is supposed to work, after all. 

The number of containers coming into Savannah has increased with the size of ships that now traverse the Panama Canal, with shippers deciding the extra time cargo remains on the water can be leveraged by the efficiency of Savannah’s logistics network. As a result, Georgia Ports Executive Director Griff Lynch explains “export customers enjoy greater empty container availability in Savannah, lower container slot costs on Neo-Panamax vessels, and unmatched cargo fluidity through road, rail and terminal services.”

In plain English, that means the more containers we bring into the country via Savannah, the cheaper it is to export our goods via the same channels.  The alternative is empty shipping containers piling up and eventually sending them back, empty, to be reloaded with foreign goods.

Though not specified, part of the ports’ growth in market share is likely due to the pandemic.  For the year ending June 30th, Savannah’s ports set yet another record in total tonnage shipped, but container traffic was down slightly – less than one percent.  Container traffic had been growing year over year in the seven to eight percent range for much of the last decade. 

Considering the supply chain interruptions all over the world during the first six months of 2020, flat container traffic for an entire year seems like a victory.  Other major ports have experienced much larger declines in traffic.

For those who operate Georgia’s ports, this looks more like an opportunity than a problem. During past events that have affected other large ports, Savannah has always seen a bump in market share.  As things return to normal, Savannah has generally been able to keep most of their new customers.

Markets have their ups and downs, but the Georgia Ports Authority keeps focused on the future.  Their vision is one of relentless pursuit of greater efficiency focused on their customers. 

That’s how, even in a worldwide pandemic, the ports continue to break records.  They ain’t bragging.  They’ve backed it up.

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