Officials at Georgia’s ports, a crucial part of the state’s economy, feared China’s virus-linked lockdown would mean a plunge in shipments. Now, they worry about the U.S. shutdowns. (Contributed)

Impact of China shutdown over by May, Georgia Ports hope

Georgia’s port officials say China’s virus-linked lockdown will have less of an impact than feared on shipping, and they are hopeful the damage from U.S. shutdowns will be modest.

Shipments to Savannah and Brunswick are running about 20% below those of March a year ago, but there are signs the dramatic drop will reverse over the next month, said Griffith Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

“While that is off, it’s not the end of the world, and we think it’s temporary,” he said, during a teleconference with reporters.

State officials track ships long before they unload in Georgia, and Lynch said the numbers are no longer declining.

“We see the numbers getting stronger out on the water four or five weeks away,” he said.

Thousands of Chinese factories were closed, creating a critical gap in the supply chain from Asia to the United States. Port officials had feared a 40% plunge in shipments, possibly lasting for several months.

However, Chinese manufacturing is back to 85% of normal, which means the gap will start to close, Lynch said.

Thus far, the slowdown at the ports has not meant layoffs, he said.

The spread of the coronavirus in the United States has not yet hit the ports’ workforce, according to Will McKnight, chairman of the authority’s board.

“We do not have any reports of employees with COVID-19, but with what we’ve seen of the world, we fully expect that that we will, and we are preparing for that.”

Even if the outbreak dramatically worsens, work at the ports will go on, Lynch said. “The Ports activity, the trucking, the warehousing, are considered essential, and we will continue to operate.”

Last year, the state imported about $19.8 billion in goods from China, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Among the goods imported from China are toys, furniture and floor coverings.

The authority employs 1,360, most of them at the ports in Savannah and Brunswick, but tens of thousands of other Georgia trucking and shipping workers’ jobs depend on the flow of goods.

The ports have seen little effect on imports so far from virus related shutdowns in Europe, or on exports from Georgia manufacturers.

But some recent manufacturing closures threaten to throttle the flow of goods into and out of the Southeast.

Kia Motors Manufacturing has paused production until at least April 13 at its massive West Point factory because of “supply chain” issues.

— Yamaha Motor’s 1,500-worker Newnan plant was idled this week for at least two weeks.

— Duluth-based AGCO, one of the world’s largest farm equipment makers, said this week that its European production has been “significantly reduced or suspended.”

Yet the impact so far of all the closures and suspensions has had only a modest impact, Lynch said.

“We are hoping we will get back to normal by May,” Lynch said. “That is our goal and that is our hope.”

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