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GPA celebrates year, announces 2 companies to bring 150 jobs

  • Griff Lynch, Georgia Ports Authority’s executive director, delivers his State of the Port address to an overflow audience Thursday at Savannah’s International Trade and Convention Center. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Gov. Nathan Deal gives opening comments for the Savannah State of the Port event hosted by the Savannah Propeller Club on Thursday at Savannah’s International Trade and Convention Center. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Executive Director Griff Lynch of the Georgia Ports Authority gives his State of the Port address Thursday in an event hosted by the Savannah Propeller Club. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Gov. Nathan Deal, left, and GPA Board Chairman Jimmy Allgood chat before the start of the State of the Port event in Savannah on Thursday. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News

Griff Lynch had a tough time curbing his enthusiasm Thursday as he delivered his second “State of the Ports” address to a sold-out crowd at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

Indeed, the Georgia Ports Authority chief had plenty to be enthusiastic about.

From record cargo volumes to expanding infrastructure, from new customers to larger ships calling, Georgia Ports’ 2017 performance was its best to date in a decade-plus of impressive achievements.

Lynch took the stage following a two-minute accelerated-time video of the 14,400-TEU container ship Theodore Roosevelt coming upriver to Garden City Terminal and being worked by a record-setting seven ship-to-shore cranes.

“How did you like that video?” he asked his audience of more than 1,300. “Was that awesome or what?”

When the applause wound down, he got down to the meat of his report.

“We’re expanding on all fronts,” Lynch said. “We’re adding market share through organic growth and the addition of new accounts, and we’re building the new infrastructure necessary to continue processing this cargo with world-class efficiency.”

In Fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, Savannah handled 3.85 million containers, while Brunswick moved more than 600,000 auto and machinery units – topping all other Southeastern ports for those commodities.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development reported 30,300 jobs and a record-breaking $6.3 billion in private investment during Fiscal 2017. Of that, Georgia’s ports accounted for 6,400 new jobs and more than $1.7 billion in investment by port customers.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, attending his first State of the Port, congratulated GPA for achieving substantial growth across all terminals without sacrificing safety or efficiency.

“These growing capabilities in Savannah and Brunswick support the expansion of manufacturing and distribution, and the jobs these private developments provide for our citizens,” Deal said, noting the value both ports bring to economic development throughout Georgia.

GPA board chairman Jimmy Allgood in turn thanked Deal for providing the unified statewide vision that has allowed the ports to thrive, calling him “a tireless champion of our ports and logistics networks.”

“Of course, none of this would have been possible without GPA’s leadership team and our 1,200 employees whose dedication to superior service is second to none,” Allgood added.

A year of firsts

The ports’ record 3.85 million TEUs last year marked a year-over-year increase of 6.7 percent, with most of the growth coming in the last half of the fiscal year – some 11.6 percent — as larger ships began moving to the East Coast through the Panama Canal, Lynch reported.

Savannah added nearly a quarter-million TEUs to its FY 2016 total, more than any other East Coast port, continuing Garden City Terminal’s reign as the fastest growing U.S. container port for the last 10 years.

“Garden City Terminal is the single-largest terminal facility in the Western Hemisphere and the envy of every port operator throughout the country,” he said.

Garden City Terminal now hosts 36 weekly vessel calls, more than any other container terminal on the U.S. East Coast.

Ocean Terminal, Savannah’s breakbulk facility located adjacent to the Talmadge Bridge, moved a total of 1.26 million tons of cargo, an increase of nearly 50,000 tons.

Leading the breakbulk cargo growth at Ocean Terminal was lumber, up 43.5 percent; linerboard, up 25 percent; wood pulp, up 18 percent; and iron and steel, up nearly 14 percent.

Combined total tonnage numbers for Savannah and Brunswick ports reached 33.4 million tons, an 8.3-percent increase and another all-time high.

Roll-on/Roll-off cargo, which includes vehicles and machinery units, totaled 646,882 units for the year – 607,227 via Brunswick’s Colonel’s Island Terminal and 39,655 through Ocean Terminal.

More than numbers

Statistics, however, only tell part of the story.

During his presentation, Lynch announced that two major e-commerce players plan to move into the Savannah market, creating another 150 jobs and adding nearly 1 million square feet to the area’s industrial footprint.

Noble House, a national furniture supplier, will build a 630,000 square-foot facility to serve the eastern half of the U.S., while home accessories company Best Choice will build 345,000 square feet.

These announcements are in addition to 3 million square feet of distribution center space completed within the last year, and 5.2 million square feet currently under construction.

Thursday’s announcements will bring Savannah’s industrial inventory to more than 57 million square feet, of which less than 2 percent is currently available.

“We thank Noble House and Best Choice and the many other business leaders who have selected Georgia and the Georgia Ports this year,” Lynch said. “E-commerce is a growing opportunity for Georgia as companies take advantage of cost savings related to landing cargo closer to population centers in the Eastern U.S.”

Digging deep

Reporting on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, Lynch said the nearly $1 billion civil works project to deepen the Savannah River channel, is 35-percent complete, with a projected finish date in 2021.

Delays and rising costs of dredging have bumped the cost of the project up significantly, but Lynch pointed out the benefit-to-cost ratio has also grown, more than compensating for the increase.

Based on the new estimates, the nation’s economy will reap $7.30 in benefits for every $1 spent on construction, he said. The previous ratio was $5.50-to-$1.

SHEP is now expected to yield a net benefit of $282 million a year, up more than $100 million a year over the previous estimate of $174 million.

Deal pointed out that, while the state has met its original monetary share of the project, which is currently being used to keep construction moving forward, Washington D.C. is lagging behind in allotting its promised share.

“We need the federal government to step up and do their share of what it takes to deepen our harbor and channel,” he said to applause.

Growing into the future

Looking ahead, Lynch outlined plans to accommodate record growth and expand new markets. Those plans include:

  • A $128 million mega-rail project that will position Savannah to rapidly increase service to an arc of inland markets, from Atlanta to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and the Ohio Valley. Construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of Calendar Year 2018. Completion is expected at the end of 2020.
  • Growing Savannah’s crane fleet. GPA has 10 Super Post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes on order — four set to arrive later this year and six more due in 2020. Having 36 cranes on dock will allow Garden City Terminal to move 1,300 containers per hour on and off vessels.
  • Finishing the Appalachian Regional Port. The completion of this inland terminal in the fall of 2018 will cut Atlanta truck traffic by 50,000 trips per year, and expand GPA’s reach into Tennessee, Northeast Alabama and parts of Kentucky.
  • Adding capacity for motor carriers. The GPA will expand its current gate structure by adding six truck lanes, giving Garden City Terminal a total of 54 lanes, a 12.5 percent increase.
  • Continuing statewide logistics expansion. Off-terminal, the state of Georgia is investing $10 billion over 10 years into freight mobility. The plan will create dedicated truck lanes, alleviate traffic and improve safety across the state. Within five years, the state will deliver the Brampton Road Connector, linking Garden City Terminal to I-516, and extend the Jimmy Deloach Parkway from I-95 to I-16, forming a complete cargo beltway for motor carriers between the port and the interstate system.

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ABOUT GPA

Georgia Port Authority’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 369,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $20.4 billion in income, $84.1 billion in revenue and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy. The Port of Savannah handled 8.2 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and 10.3 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in CY2015.

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