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Editorial: Inland port to have positive impact now, and for years to come
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Gov. Nathan Deal announced the coming inland port to be built at Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365 in Hall County during a press conference at the Lanier Flight Center Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, at Gainesville's Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport. - photo by Scott Rogers

There is a good chance that when economic historians of some future date write of the financial successes of this region of North Georgia, they will devote an entire chapter to the importance of the decision to locate an inland port near Gainesville.

In fact, a few decades from now, that event could be worth a book of its own.

Gov. Nathan Deal, speaking from the local airport on Monday, elaborated on an earlier announcement that the Northeast Georgia Inland Port will be located in the Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365. He noted that in addition to serving existing customers of the Port of Savannah, the facility will “serve as an economic development tool, drawing new investment from business and industry to Hall and its surrounding counties.”

We expect that not only will the governor be proven right, but that the inland port may exceed all expectations when it comes to future economic growth.

Hall County and the surrounding area is already blessed with an incredibly strong economic engine; the new port facility has the potential to be an added turbocharger.

So what is an inland port? Simply put, it’s a direct railroad connection to the massive container port operation in Savannah, one that will allow containers filled with cargo to travel between Gainesville and Savannah by rail rather than by truck, thus improving shipping and supply logistics for hundreds of different industries and manufacturers, with the added benefit of reducing truck traffic across the state.

Once the containers reach the inland port, they are unloaded from railcars and trucks then disperse their cargo within the region.

The 104-acre Gainesville terminal is expected to be completed in 2021. Once fully operational, it will be able to handle up to 150,000 containers per year, and with its proximity to transportation corridors such as I-85 and I-985 will be a boon to businesses throughout the region.

The inland port for Gainesville will be the state’s second. A similar facility on 42 acres near Chatsworth went into operation earlier this year.

Reducing the time it takes to get freight and raw materials to manufacturers and industries will allow them to be more efficient and save money; conversely, helping them to get finished products to the world via Savannah in a more cost effective manner will make them more competitive domestically and internationally, improving the bottom line.

In comments provided to the Georgia Port Authority, Georgia Poultry Federation President Mike Giles noted that the area’s poultry industry is sure to benefit from the new port. Savannah is the number one export facility for poultry products in the nation, and having a rail terminal in Gainesville with a direct link to Savannah is an “investment in the future connectivity between the Georgia poultry industry and our customers worldwide,” Giles said.

The location of the port is already paying off. In conjunction with Monday’s announcement, Auto Metal Direct said it would be building a $15 million distribution center in Gateway Industrial Centre. The company distributes auto body panels and trim for classic vehicles worldwide.

Expect that announcement to be the first of many for new manufacturers and distributors planning to move to the area.

Existing businesses are already looking forward to the terminal opening.

Kubota is a major player in the local manufacturing community. In comments provided to the Port Authority, Kubota Vice President Phil Sutton said the company expects “several layers of potential cost savings with the new inland port,” specifically by reducing lead times and cutting down on the dependence on motor carriers.

But the new terminal will do more than serve as an incentive for economic development. By using Norfolk Southern rail lines to connect Savannah and Gainesville, it will eliminate the need for trucks making the trip between Savannah and North Georgia, thus improving the flow of traffic throughout the state.

The Port of Savannah is positioned to grow and become even more of a player on the international business stage. As it does, the connection to North Georgia will pay increased dividends for decades to come.

The Port of Savannah, Norfolk Southern, economic development leaders at the state and local level, and certainly Gov. Deal are all to be commended for their efforts to strengthen the state’s business foundation and make it more competitive on an international basis with completion of the planned inland ports. With locations in Chatsworth and Gainesville, the I-75 and I-85 corridors north of Atlanta will have direct rail access to Savannah for transportation of thousands of cargo containers each year.

Years from now we expect local leaders will look back at the decision to base the terminal here and realize that doing so made an incredibly positive financial impact on all of North Georgia.

Philip Wilheit, chairman of the Gainesville and Hall County development Authority, may have summed it up better than anyone when he said, “It’s almost overwhelming to me what this port is going to mean to us.”

Overwhelming indeed.


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