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Georgia ports magnets for investment, jobs
Brian Kemp
Gov. Brian Kemp - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SAVANNAH — Gov. Brian Kemp heaped praise on approximately 1,400 people during the State of the Port Address at the Savannah Convention Center on Thursday.

The group was lauded for its contributions toward making Georgia’s ports some of the best in the country.

“I can tell you that the state of the ports is strong in Georgia,” Kemp said at the state of the event sponsored by the Propeller Club and the Georgia Ports Authority. 

Kemp said the Port of Savannah moved a record 4.5 million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs).

“That means an additional 300,000 containers,” Kemp said. “It is also my understanding that for many of the ports out there that 300,000 is the majority of their entire business for a year, much less our growth.”

At 4.5 million TEUs, the Port of Savannah grew its containerized trade by 7.3 percent. Total tonnage reached 37.5 million, up 1.5 million tons or 4.2 percent. The port handled 507,000 intermodal boxes, up 73,000, or 17 percent compared to the previous year.

“For you all that are hear today, I don’t have to recite the economic impact that the ports have on our economy, the Southeast’s economy and literally on the nation’s economy. You know it and you see it everyday,” the governor said.

Port-related announcements of expansions and new business accounted for nearly $5 billion in investment and 12,000 jobs across the state, including Effingham County. 

“When a new distribution center opens, when a new manufacturer sets up shop or a new customer calls on the ports, new jobs and opportunities are created,” Kemp said. “Our ports are key drivers of our economy. They drive  our economy because they literally touch every part of our state, including rural Georgia, and our citizens understand that.”

 Kemp expects Georgia’s ports to continue to grow.

“We can leverage the success of our ports to reach even more Georgians,” he said, “but first we must take a look at new opportunities for inland ports in parts of our state that need economic revitalization. We must work with rail providers, manufacturers, suppliers and economic developers, many of whom are in this room today, to dig deeper and think bigger.

“We need our partners to consider creating new supply chains that help bring new businesses to new places. If we can leverage our ports to expand their reach, we will drive more cargo through it.”

To that end, state officials unveiled a “rural strike team” concept in Swainsboro on Thursday afternoon that is designed to develop and market mega industrial sites across the state. The teams will include state legislators, port officials and local community leaders.

“If we can take the great success that we’ve had in Savannah and replicate it other parts of Georgia, we can create more opportunities through our supply chain,” Kemp said.

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch has been working diligently to expand the Port of Savavannah’s impact.

 “The market has clearly chosen the Port of Savannah as the Southeastern hub for containerized trade,” Lynch said. “To fulfill the growing responsibility placed on our deepwater terminals, we have developed a plan to double our capacity.”

Upcoming terminal enhancements include:

In 2020, Garden City Terminal will receive six additional ship-to-shore cranes, bringing its fleet to 36, more than any other terminal in North America. Lynch said GPA plans continual upgrades to its crane fleet, which will include 12 new cranes with a lift height of 170 feet by 2027.

Within three years, the GPA plans a berth realignment to allow docking for more 14,000-TEU vessels on the downriver end of Garden City Terminal. By 2027, the additional cranes, revamped dock space and a new Hutchinson Island terminal will allow the Port of Savannah to significantly increase big ship capacity.

Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now in the final phase of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The Corps is expected to issue contracts this year to dredge the inner harbor, which makes up the final half of the deepening.

Dual Rail Service

To handle the growing container trade crossing Garden City Terminal and to attract additional business, the GPA is expanding its rail infrastructure and offerings. At Thursday’s event, Lynch introduced dual rail service from the Port of Savannah to Chicago, with cargo reaching the Windy City in less than three days.

“Our expanding offerings with Norfolk Southern and CSX to the Midwest will be a game changer in the growth of cargo at the Port of Savannah,” Lynch said. “We’re now moving containers from ship to departing rail in only 24 hours -- two and a half times faster than our previous schedule -- which makes Savannah competitive on time and lower on cost compared to traditional cargo routings.”

McKnight said to accommodate increasing rail demand, the authority is in the midst of a $220 million expansion of its on-terminal rail infrastructure at the Port of Savannah.

 “The Mason Mega Rail Terminal will be the largest on-dock rail facility at any port in North America,” McKnight said. “It will allow the Authority to shift more of its cargo mix from truck to rail, so that we can grow our overall volumes without congestion at our truck gates.”

 Construction on Phase I of GPA’s Mason Mega Rail Terminal will be complete in the spring, with a grand opening slated for March 2020. When Phase II opens in late 2020, the project will double the Port of Savannah’s rail lift capacity to 1 million containers per year.