The Port of Savannah: Exporting Cargo, Importing Jobs

by: Smith and Howard

April 29, 2016

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A recent conversation with the Georgia Ports Authority shed light on the economic impact of a place close to home, The Port of Savannah. Many thanks to Edward Fulford, GPA manager of communications, who contributed to this article. 

The Port of Savannah is the second-busiest port in the nation for the export of containerized goods and the number one port for refrigerated export cargo. With close proximity to two railroads (Norfolk Southern and CSX, On Terminal) and two major interstates (I-16 East/West and I-95 North/South) the Port continues to attract new business. The economic impact surrounding the Port spreads throughout the nation, but the state of Georgia continues to reap the benefits of this international cargo hub.

2015 was a year of record growth for The Georgia Ports Authority

In 2015 the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) experienced record growth, which was driven by the increased demand in the Southeast U.S., the logistical advantages provided by the Port and the influx of new cargo diverted from the West Coast. In 2015, the Port of Savannah moved an all-time high of 3.73 million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEU), an increase of 391,356 TEUs, or 11.7 percent compared to 2014. Total tonnage across all terminals reached a record 31.48 million tons in 2015, an increase of 1.09 million tons, or 3.6 percent.

According to the GPA, the deep-water ports of Georgia generate more than $20.4 billion in income, $84.1 billion in revenue and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes for the state.

“Between direct port employment, port users and the secondary jobs supported by these logistics payrolls, the ports support more than 369,000 jobs across Georgia,” said Edward Fulford, GPA manager of communications.

The three largest categories of jobs include:

  • Services: 128,991
  • Manufacturing: 102,260
  • Retail and Wholesale Trade: 39,370

So, what’s in store for 2016?

The Port of Savannah sustains growth in containerized goods. GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz confirmed the Port experienced 8% growth in containerized trade for the month of February. That same month, total freight equaled 2.67 million tons across all cargo sectors, an increase of 3.9 percent.

“We expect to grow our cargo in 2016, but for the pace of increase to moderate compared to last year’s nearly 12 percent expansion in container traffic,” said Fulford.

“Now that West Coast labor issues are settled, the GPA is anticipating growth in the five percent range this year in containerized cargo. With a strong dollar and a soft global economy, much of that expansion will be on the import side.”

The Port continues to expand beyond the numbers

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) includes the deepening of the inner harbor of the Savannah River to 47 feet at mean low water (MLW).

“The outer harbor (in the Atlantic, beyond the mouth of the Savannah River) will be deepened to 49 feet at MLW. The project will enable the port to more efficiently serve the larger vessels expected to call in greater numbers after the Panama Canal expansion. Megaships will be able to call on Savannah with heavier loads and greater scheduling flexibility once the deepening is complete.”

According to the GPA, the state of Georgia has contributed $266 million to cover the projected SHEP costs. The remaining $706 million will be covered by federal funds. In order for this project to remain on schedule, the federal government needs to devote $100 million a year in construction.

As the Port continues to grow, so do security concerns

The normal operations of the port are monitored and secured by its own force of police officers and security personnel. In addition to private security personnel, the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies provide security in the shipping channel and on the terminal. These agencies perform their services as part of the normal operation of the port.

The Port of Savannah fosters growth throughout Georgia as well as the nation. As the Port continues to expand, so do the jobs statewide. There are over 165,000 jobs in the Metro Atlanta region alone that are generated by the Port.

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