Ports project key to recovery

The Georgia Ports Authority connects the Southeast’s economy to the global marketplace, generating opportunities for the entire region. As the fourth-busiest container port in the nation, the Port of Savannah was responsible for moving 8.7 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume in fiscal 2011 and 12.5 percent of all U.S. containerized exports.

Because shipping companies will grow their reliance on post-Panamax vessels after the 2014 expansion of the Panama Canal, it is imperative to keep pace with the evolving demands of world trade. One of the most important and productive civil works projects in the country, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will reduce the cost of shipping and improve our nation’s competitiveness.

The project has seen steady progress, with the state having budgeted $134.4 million toward its completion, and Gov. Nathan Deal seeking another $46.7 million in his fiscal 2013 budget request. The federal government has announced another $5.8 million — in part from a fund created by Congress and in part from a $2.8 million line-item in the president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

The additional federal funds will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare for the construction phase of the harbor deepening. The Corps of Engineers soon will release its final plan documents for SHEP, clearing the way for federal approvals and construction of the project.

This work is needed because Georgia’s deepwater ports are key to the nation’s economic recovery, encouraging development across a wide array of industries. Despite challenging times, Georgia’s ports generate substantial economic impacts, having supported job growth even during the worst recession in generations.

According to a 2009 study by the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, Georgia’s deepwater ports support 295,422 full- and part-time jobs. One job out of every 15 in Georgia is in some way dependent upon its ports. Georgia’s deepwater ports account for $61.7 billion in annual sales, $15.5 billion in income and $2.6 billion in state and local taxes.

Ranked by compounded annual growth rate, the Port of Savannah has been the fastest-growing, major-container port in the nation for 10 years, outpacing the growth of the nearest competitor by two to one.

Maintaining this preferred position among port users is key to state and regional recovery because the nation’s ports are among the first segments of the economy to turn around after a recession.

One of the keys to Georgia’s success in international trade can be attributed to its customer-driven and focused approach. Because Georgia owns and operates many of its deepwater terminals, the GPA has increased flexibility to devote space, equipment and manpower as needed to every customer. For instance, necessary dock space can be allotted with no waiting for proprietary berths. This flexibility allows Georgia to attract and handle more cargo, creating jobs and economic opportunities across the supply chain.

Among the most cost-effective and efficient facilities in the nation, the Ports of Savannah and Brunswick give Georgia a compelling advantage in the competition to win jobs and development.

Curtis J. Foltz is executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

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