Savannah has become one of the nation’s most crucial trading links. Last year, the port handled 22.5% of the container cargo coming in on the East Coast and 11.3% of the cargo coming into the United States, said Lynch.
The pandemic has brought challenges. At first, when the coronavirus hit China, factories shut down and shipments through Savannah ebbed. Then, as U.S. consumers spent more time at home, orders for goods soared. Port officials scrambled to respond to the surge in shipments, said Joel Wooten, the authority’s chairman of the board.
Savannah had been in the midst of expansion before the pandemic began. But, Wooten said, “We have had to move many projects up, things that we had planned for one, two or three years down the road.”
The authority has opened four inland yards, including one in the Reynoldstown section of Atlanta, that take thousands of containers that would otherwise be clogging the port. Several hundred workers and more machinery has also been added at the port itself, he said.
While the worst of the supply chain snarls have eased, costs are higher than before, said Enrique Alvarez, managing director at Atlanta-based Vector Global Logistics, which provides logistics services.
Officials expect the coming months to be busy, but should the economy cool — a possibility with the Federal Reserve likely to raise interest rates — Savannah would see a drop in imports, Lynch said. “If consumers stop spending, if things get more expensive, that is really going to affect us,” he said.
The Ports Authority also manages the Port of Brunswick, which handles shipments of vehicles and various kinds of machinery. Those operations have been disrupted by the global shortage in silicon chips that has forced many manufacturers to cut production. Even so, Brunswick handled 649,550 units of cars, trucks and machinery during the year, an increase of 10.6% from 2020.
Port of Savannah, 2021
Containers filled with imports: 2,801,201
Containers filled with exports: 1,382,233
Empty containers entering: 42,705
Empty containers leaving: 1,387,024
Share of East Coast ports: 22.5%
Share of all U.S. ports: 11.3%
Source: Georgia Ports Authority