Georgia port healthier than ever with pandemic surge in e-commerce

SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: Employees at the Fulfillment.com facility work to ship packages for all sorts of retailers. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: Employees at the Fulfillment.com facility work to ship packages for all sorts of retailers. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Fulfillment.com started in an office above a pizza joint about a decade ago.

The company — which stores and delivers packages for hundreds of online retailers — now operates eight facilities, including four overseas.

In Savannah, where it’s based, the company has doubled its workforce and tripled its warehouse space in the past three years.

Crucial to the business, said co-owner Bob Bilbrough, is having the Port of Savannah only 18 miles away.

The port has long been shipping’s entree to the Southeast. With the spectacular rise of e-commerce, especially during the pandemic, it’s even more important, said Bilbrough. “The world has changed,” he said. “It will never go back.”

SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: Fulfillment.com workers prepare, pack and ship items customerÕs online orders from the Savannah facility. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: Fulfillment.com workers prepare, pack and ship items customerÕs online orders from the Savannah facility. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Though trade collapsed briefly at the pandemic’s start, it rapidly rebounded as American consumers went online. The port’s business roared back, too.

It is now the second-busiest on the East Coast, after the New York-Newark port.

A busy port creates jobs and not just for workers loading and unloading ships — for truckers, packers and delivery workers, as well as accountants, lawyers and sales people.

The state has about 950,000 jobs in the trade and transportation sector.

In 2020, the port handled an average of more than 300,000 containers a month, doing more unloading than loading since imports outnumber exports.

In the past five years, the number of exports coming into the port has grown 9.4%, while imports are up 37.9%. That imbalance is because the U.S. economy has expanded faster than any of its trading partners, said Jeffrey Rosensweig, director of the Robson Program at Emory’s Goizueta School of Business.

And it would be even busier if the pandemic hadn’t caused so many problems in the availability of goods.

Those supply chain disruptions are a problem for Georgia factories, even those where business is booming.

Winton Machines in Suwanee has plans to hire more employees. But the pandemic left unpredictable gaps in the flow of materials that could slow its expansion.

Still, companies that move, store and ship the goods have been adding jobs.

That includes third party logistics companies, like Fulfillment.com, that generally do not sell directly to businesses or consumers, but instead handle transportation, warehousing, packing, receiving and delivering orders.

SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: A Fulfillment.com employee sorts boxes according to customerÕs orders. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: A Fulfillment.com employee sorts boxes according to customerÕs orders. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Another, Savannah-based Port City Logistics, has increased its number of employees by 100 in the past year, said Chief Executive Eric Howell.

Port City takes containers from the port to its warehouses, Howell said.

Warehouse jobs are also created by the big retailers that do their own distribution, and those centers have proliferated in Georgia in recent years.

  • Walmart, which has more than 200 stores in the state, has 14 distribution centers here, including one near Savannah, according to spokesman Phillip Keene.
  • Amazon has 13 fulfillment centers and eight delivery stations in Georgia, one just outside Savannah. Amazon plans two more fulfillment centers and four more delivery stations, several of them close to Savannah.
  • Home Depot will have nine “supply chain facilities” in the state by year’s end. The three being added this year created about 1,000 jobs in Stonecrest, East Point and Locust Grove.

State officials are quick to point out that the port, like all engines of growth in an economy, tends to power hiring in all directions.

The port’s good fortune has meant more demand for the restaurants and hotels in the area, said Kim Wallace, executive vice president of Hire Dynamics.

Savannah’s rebound from the pandemic-triggered shutdowns has been stronger than average. The region’s unemployment rate is 3.9%, lower than the state’s overall rate of 4.3% and significantly below the 6.1% national rate.

Fulfillment.com has seen its expansion parallel that of the port, said co-owner Bilbrough.

“I lived in Atlanta for 18 years, and I was

SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: Bob Bilbrough, the Chief Operations Officer for Fulfillment.com in Savannah, standing right, goes over an order with his team at the facility. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
SAVANNAH, GA - JUNE 04, 2021: Bob Bilbrough, the Chief Operations Officer for Fulfillment.com in Savannah, standing right, goes over an order with his team at the facility. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

very Atlanta-centric,” he said. “I never realized the economic engine that the port is.”

Port of Savannah

Total growth in imports, past five years: 37.9%

Total growth in imports, past five years: 9.4%

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Number of containers imported, past year

Retail consumer goods: 356,450

Machinery Appliances electronics: 319,804

Furniture: 307,537

Hardware and housewares: 191,649

Automotive: 140,167

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Number of containers exported, past year

Food: 225,320

Wood Pulp: 205,587

Paper, paperboard, waste: 167,115

Fabrics and raw cotton: 108,887

Clay: 101,649

Source: Georgia Ports Authority

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Top container ports in the United States

1. Los Angeles

2. Newark/New York

3. Long Beach

4. Savannah

5. Houston

Supply Chain Management Review

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