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GPA hopes to use proven formula to grow Brunswick auto business

The Georgia Ports Authority has continued to grow its Garden City Terminal container business in large part by staying ahead of the capacity curve, ports Director Griff Lynch told industry leaders gathered on Sea Island on Monday for the first day of the Georgia Foreign Trade Conference.

Now, Lynch is looking to replicate that success at GPA’s growing auto port in Brunswick, where the long-term goal is to double the capacity for cars and heavy machinery on Colonel’s Island.

“We talk a lot about our container operation, but we have another massive operation down the coast,” he said. “The largest footprint for automobiles in the country is in Brunswick.

“Like our container operation, our auto port is also the fastest growing segment in the country. But, unlike our container port, we lease our Brunswick property to auto manufacturers, carriers and processors.”

And that, Lynch said, has brought its own set of issues.

“Typically, our position would be to wait until we had a lease signed before developing a piece of property for a customer. So, as business has grown, we’ve had customers come to us and say they want to start bringing autos or machines through Brunswick and we have to tell them, ‘Great! Sign this lease and your facility will be ready in a year.’

“That simply doesn’t cut it anymore,” he said.

To that end, Lynch said, he asked his board to take a “calculated risk” with Colonel’s Island.

“We went to the board and said we wanted to embrace the same methodology on Colonel’s Island that we’ve used at Garden City Terminal,” he said.

“We said we want to always be 20 percent ahead of demand. We want to have at least 20 percent more capacity than we need at any given time. Then we told them it was going to cost a lot of money and there was no guarantee that we’d get all of it leased up really quickly.

“But we also said we felt that, in the long term, it was the right thing for the business,” he said.

The board agreed and, as a result, GPA now has some 200 acres either under design or being built on Colonel’s Island, Lynch said.

“So, in addition to the 504 acres of developed, leased property, we now have the ability to develop another 550 acres on the newly permitted south side of the island, which all adds up to the potential for 157,000 autos on one terminal.”

Since GPA began the new development process, a lot of the land has already been snatched up, he said.

“It’s what we thought would happen, based on the demographics of the Southeast. This is where the population growth is. This is where more people are buying cars.

“We’re really excited about that and think, long term, there is no reason Brunswick shouldn’t be the No. 1 auto port in the nation.”

Senior business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow. She can be reached at 912-652-0324 or at mary.mayle@savannahnow.com.

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