Port cargo increases

Georgia’s ports saw unprecedented trade in the past fiscal year. More containers, bulk goods and cars are supporting more than 352,000 jobs across Georgia. The rising tide of the economy is literally bringing more imports to our shores and sending more exports to global markets.

Georgia’s success is no accident. Like all enterprises thriving in the wake of the downturn, Georgia’s ports are benefiting from strategic investments and our ports’ ability to efficiently support growth.

The Port of Savannah handled 8 percent of U.S. containerized cargo volume and 10.9 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in the past fiscal year. Our five terminals in Brunswick and Savannah experienced strong growth across all major business sectors. We moved more than 29 million tons of cargo, an 8 percent increase, including a significant increase in exports of renewable energy wood pellets to Europe. We handled 3 million 25-foot-equivalent container units, a 6 percent increase. More than 700,000 auto and machinery units, a 10 percent increase, rolled through our Colonel’s Island Terminal.

The global recovery is encouraging more exports, and the strengthening U.S. economy is inviting more imports. The near-even balance of both is unusual nationally. We benefit from strong demand for Georgia exports including forest products, kaolin clay, poultry and other agricultural products.

The Port of Savannah is Atlanta’s port. It supports about 100,000 metro area jobs. Atlanta’s proximity to Savannah — 100 miles closer than to any other port — is a strategic advantage to the Port of Savannah. Atlanta is a transportation, logistics and distribution center second to none, affording Georgia’s port unequaled access to the Southeast.

But nothing has contributed more to our success than the commitment of Georgians to invest in greater efficiencies in our ports, making them more attractive to cargo owners and shippers. Such efficiency can be the difference in making a sale in the global marketplace.

No initiative is more important to that efficiency, of course, than the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. It will deepen the channel to 47 feet and result in savings by allowing larger PostPanamax vessels to operate more efficiently and experience fewer tidal and transit delays. Thanks to Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly, we have in place $266 million to begin construction, anticipated before year’s end.

Investments on the land-side terminal are also crucial to ongoing success. For example, recent improvements include more efficient cranes, more refrigerated cargo capacity and cargo-moving technology. Transportation infrastructure improvements, such as the Jimmy Deloach Parkway Extension, will bring I-95 directly into the port, reducing driving time and congestion.

These investments pay dividends. Georgia’s ports are contributing $18.5 billion in income, $66.9 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in state and local taxes to the state’s economy.

Similarly, railroads serving the port have invested in efficiency; growing rail volumes are reducing road truck traffic. And the private sector is leveraging these public investments with investments in infrastructure, such as warehousing in proximity to the Savannah port.

Our focus on efficiency is unceasing. It is at the heart of our success. It is the reason we are bullish on the future. Already in the first month of the new fiscal year, we’ve seen continued momentum. We reached an all-time high in container trade last month, a nearly 20 percent increase over last year.

Improved confidence among U.S. retailers, newly added port customers and shifting cargo from West Coast to East Coast fuel the cargo volumes. The Savannah port has space to more than double its throughput as more shippers choose East Coast ports to serve the Southeast. We can all look forward to this powerful engine continuing to create jobs and economic opportunity.

Curtis Foltz is executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

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