Georgia Ports - Georgia’s ports post robust growth

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

The Ports of Brunswick and Savannah highlight growth for GPA. Challenges inside and outside terminal gates destined to shape prospects for continued cargo growth.
By George Lauriat, Editor-in-Chief, AJOT
During last month’s “Annual State of the Port” address, Doug Marchand, Executive Director of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), a quasi-government agency that oversees the deepwater ports of Savannah, Brunswick and other facilities, issued a “Call to Action” to the greater port community. To an outsider, the “Call to Action” might seem a little unusual, since business at the GPA’s facilities is not only good, but it is very good, and looking better for the future. Consider what the GPA’s facilities did last August. In August the Port of Savannah posted a monthly record of 154,361 teus. Breakbulk tonnage grew by 12%, and bulk tonnage grew by 5.2%. The numbers are very good, but business at the port has been going well for some time. To put it into an historic perspective, in FY 2004 the Port of Brunswick handled 1,343,334 tons of bulk cargo, a more than 1,400% increase over 1980. During the same period, the Port of Brunswick handled 322,115 vehicles, a more than 550% increase over 1990. At the Port of Savannah, the flagship of the GPA, 1,572,734 teus were handled in FY 2004, an astounding 289% increase over FY 1990. However, Marchand’s “Call to Action” is less about what has happened in the past and more about what the GPA believes will happen in the near term. The Port of Savannah expects 150% growth in less than 15 years, which will mean that the container port facilities will soon handle a throughput of at least 4 million teus annually. To accommodate this forecast flood of boxes, improvements are already underway on the terminals, but rail, road and channel infrastructure issues remain. In addition, the GPA estimates it will need some 30-40 million sq./ft of space to handle the increase in box traffic. The increase in container traffic is only one element of concern for the port agency. Vehicle handling has also dramatically increased and bulk and breakbulk facilities, although not as prominent in the public’s eye, are critical to the State of Georgia’s overall economic health.
Part of the reason that Marchand and the GPA believe that the Port of Savannah will achieve 150% growth within 15 years or less lies with the nature of the container trade. The increase in all-water services through the Panama and Suez canals following the West Coast ports discord has lifted container throughput totals at nearly every East Coast port. For example, the Port of Savannah, has 13 all-water weekly services to the Far East that transit the Panama Canal. That number is growing. In July, the port added the East Coast North Express Service, or ECN, which operates under the service portfolio of the Grand Alliance, a partnership that includes Hapag-Lloyd, NYK Logistics, OOCL and P&O-Nedlloyd. Simply put, more Asian trade is coming direct to East Coast consumers. However, since the mid-1990s, the State of Georgia and the GPA have embarked on a strategy that would, from a marketing perspective, separate Savannah from other Southeast and Gulf ports contending for ship calls. As a starting point for the strategy, the State used tax incentives to attract industries to re-locate in Georgia. Companies using Georgia’s ports also are eligible to receive added tax incentives tied directly to their cargo activity and their county location. Accordingly, Georgia counties are divided into five tiers, with each county’s tier designation dependent upon the economic needs of that county. In short, the poorer the county, the more the tax incentives available to the shipper.
Since 1997, the GPA has attracted retailers like Best Buy, The Bombay Company, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Fred’s, Hugo Boss, K-Mart, Lowes, Michael’s and Wal-Mart, to establish large scale Distribution Centers (DCs) near the port. The DCs now account for nearly 400,000 teus annually, or about 27%-30% of the port’s annual throughput. Similar to other port

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American Journal of Transportation