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Logistics summit puts Savannah in spotlight

David “Fish” Mihuta has been involved in logistics most of his life, long enough to remember when it was just known as transportation.

A sales representative for Freightliner of Savannah, Mihuta was privy to the explosive growth in the local logistics industry, growth fueled by Georgia Ports Authority’s rise to the top tier of U.S. container ports.

With that growth comes a myriad of job opportunities, especially for the area’s high school graduates.

“But we in the transportation industry have had somewhat of a communication problem,” he said. “To most kids, their parents and teachers, working in logistics was another word for driving a truck.

“Yes, we need qualified truck drivers, but there are so many other opportunities within the supply chain.”

Hoping to find a way to get that point across, Mihuta and Robert Dowd of Port City Logistics came up with a unique concept they called “Follow the Container.”

Designed to expose high school seniors to the diverse career opportunities within the local logistics industry, the program engaged GPA and Savannah Technical College to help sponsor field trips for high school students that observed containers from ship-side to cross-dock and warehouse to the customer, noting all the different jobs required along the way.

That popular program morphed into what is now known as the Maritime Logistics Education Task force, or MLET, which just graduated its fifth class of interns — many of whom are going on to careers in the local logistics field after putting in more than 200 paid hours with area maritime companies.

The unique concept has been so successful that Mihuta was asked to present it earlier this month on a workforce development panel at the Georgia Logistics Summit in Atlanta.

The summit, another unique concept, is the only industry-driven, state-led event of its kind in the country, bringing together industry leaders from a wide range of states and some foreign countries to network and learn more about the latest best practices.

While the reaction to his program was overwhelmingly positive, Mihuta said he also came away with a wealth of information, ideas and a network of new contacts to help him implement them.

“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “For example, I was blown away to learn how large a role technology is playing in the supply chain, another opportunity for anyone looking to get into the industry.”

Summit officials as well were clearly impressed with what Mihuta had to offer, with several participants wanting advice on starting similar workforce development programs in their cities.

‘A sense of pride’

Christopher “Smitty” Smith is a partner at Savannah law firm HunterMaclean, which is a sponsor of the summit. This year he moderated the popular “Sharing Success” roundtable in which logistics providers shared the challenges and opportunities in each of Georgia’s transportation modes, from ocean to air, trucking to rail.

“We talked about everything from industry trends and infrastructure to regulatory issues,” he said. “I have to say my biggest takeaway from the summit was the incredible statewide support for our Savannah ports and logistics industries.”

A major topic of discussion was the way the port handled the COSCO Development, the largest container ship ever to call on the East Coast, which sailed into Savannah just five days before the summit began.

Crews at GPA’s Garden City Terminal completed some 5,500 moves on and off the huge ship in only 30 hours.

“The port’s capacity and efficiency was a major part of summit discussions, from Gov. Deal’s opening remarks to the details from (GPA executive director) Griff Lynch on how the port was able to move some 220 containers an hour.

“It was clear that everyone in the room felt a real sense of pride,” he said.

While many major cargo owners, shippers and logistics industries were represented at the summit, Smith said smaller companies involved in any aspect of the supply chain could benefit from the two-day summit as well.

“It’s a great opportunity to take note of trends in the industry, to learn about the latest technology and workforce developments and, most importantly, to network with and get help from both the state and other business owners dealing with some of the same issues,” he said.

For companies in the Savannah area, Smith’s firm co-hosts an annual Logistics Luncheon with the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, offering a regional, in-depth focus from the Georgia Logistics Summit.

This year’s luncheon will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 19 at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. The focus will be on logistics industry disruptors.

For more information, go to www.huntermaclean.com/event/savannah-logistics-lunch-2017.

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