Gainesville may be nearly 300 miles from the Port of Savannah, but the impact of a planned $142 million expansion and improvement project could hit close to home, according to at least one local official.
“We are extremely fortunate to be as close to a world-class port facility as we are,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “With nearly 30 percent of Hall County employment coming from manufacturing and processing, the Port of Savannah is critical infrastructure to those jobs and their employees that depend on the port as a key link in the supply chain of imported components and exported finished goods.”
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, delivered his annual “State of the Ports” speech just two months after the agency reported record-smashing cargo volumes at both Savannah and Brunswick in fiscal 2015.
Buoyed in part by West Coast labor woes that diverted cargo to the eastern seaboard, Georgia’s ports saw overall cargo volume jump 8 percent to 31.7 million tons during the fiscal year that ended June 30. The Port of Savannah, fourth in the nation for handling cargo containers used to ship retail goods, saw that business grow a whopping 17 percent as it moved 3.7 million container units.
“Those are container volumes we didn’t expect to see until 2019, and we saw them last year,” Foltz told about 1,500 gathered in a convention center ballroom for his speech.
Though some of the increased business that Georgia saw last year has returned to the West Coast, Foltz predicted more growth in the coming year. And he said the ports should be ready for the extra volumes.
In the next year, Savannah plans to add four new towering ship-to-shore cranes along its docks, boosting its total to 26. Other upcoming improvements include a new eight-lane access gate for trucks, as well as a 30-acre depot yard for empty containers with enough space for 15,000 container units.
Foltz said the ports authority plans $1.4 billion in new investments over the next decade, anticipating more growth to come. Savannah’s container business alone grew more than 9 percent between 2000 and 2014 — by far the fastest rate of any port in the nation.
Evans said the Savannah Harbor expansion project is “a very important infrastructure project to businesses in Georgia. Container ships are getting larger and require deeper draft depths than the current river channel allows.”
Added Evans: “This will ensure we remain in close proximity to the global shipping lanes that connect us to markets in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Our close proximity to the Port of Savannah is a competitive advantage that lowers the cost of doing business in Hall County and Georgia, and has a direct impact on creating jobs in Hall County.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.