Time to get moving on port investment

“Where do people go to build their plants? They go to build their plants, with good reason, where they can get the greatest return on their investment,” said Vice President Joe Biden visiting the Port of Savannah last Monday afternoon. “And it makes a difference if they get delayed a day getting out of port. It makes a difference whether or not they can fully load every one of those container ships. Time is money.”

Manufacturing continues to expand in the Southeast thanks in part to the efficiency of Georgia’s ports. We once again imported and exported record cargo volumes in the recently concluded fiscal year. The private sector signaled its confidence in our ports by leasing or developing more than 1.1 million square feet of distribution center space nearby.

But a candid snapshot of our national ports infrastructure reveals that it is aging, causing America to fall behind globally. As a country, we need investment at every level to increase the velocity, efficiency and safety of our ports. America’s infrastructure is literally the foundation upon which our standing in the world is built. And our role as the gateway to commerce for the Southeast requires the port to stay on the cutting edge of infrastructure, equipment and technology.

So we will continue to invest, including $186 million in capital improvements over the next two fiscal years.The benefit to Georgia is well established. The $67 billion of total economic impact of the ports on Georgia’s economy represents nearly 10 percent of the state’s total economic output. (Metro Atlanta, a major distribution hub, reaps roughly 70 percent of the port’s economic benefit.) And the economic impact is most easily understood in terms of its effects on employment. One job out of every twelve in Georgia is in some way dependent on the ports. Crucial to supporting these jobs is our ability to export as efficiently as possible containers filled with raw materials (including Georgia’s kaolin clay) and manufactured goods (including our state’s forest products, poultry and other products).

No single infrastructure investment in our ports is more important than the expansion of the Savannah Harbor. The clock is ticking toward our need to accommodate larger ships that will soon pass through an expanded Panama Canal. The opportunity is upon us to lower shipping costs to help ensure that our manufacturers are globally competitive.

In the past year, the Georgia Ports Authority received final approval for the harbor expansion. We completed a successful mediation with South Carolina environmental interests. And Georgia allocated another $50 million to construction – bringing the state’s total commitment to $231 million.

The final step, which we anticipate soon, is an update of the harbor expansion project cost that Congress first authorized in 1999. Our federal leadership can proceed confidently knowing that the project will yield a benefit-to-cost ratio of 5.5 dollars for every dollar spent on the deepening and will provide a net annual benefit of $174 million to the nation.

As Vice President Biden expressed so emphatically last week, “It’s time we get moving.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.