This year’s Georgia Foreign Trade Conference (GFTC) was again hosted at The Cloister in Sea Island, Georgia on February 2nd through February 4th. This three-day event was particularly special on this 52nd anniversary of the expo. The conference took us on a journey ranging in categories like logistics and transportation, rail, future expansion and special projects, and workforce development as well as many maritime economic activities.
The GFTC was attended by over 700 delegates and 30 exhibitors; the largest to-date. It was apparent from the welcoming and opening ceremonies that the leadership of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) as well as the State of Georgia’s Governor Kemp and high-ranking industry dignitaries were extremely proud of the potential for growth GPA is continously forecasting. As a top growth trend leader, GPA has developed the original ideas – designing entire areas and reimaging the warehouses and yard area spaces. This vision is why GPA is able to maintain its spot as the number one port in the Southeast and second-biggest auto port in the U.S. according to Will Mcknight, GTFC 2020 General Chair & GPA Board Member. “The expansion at our deepwater ports in both Savannah and Brunswick is helping to fuel growth, and in turn investment, jobs and increased competitiveness on the global stage,” stated McKnight.
Rail, including intermodal, is an important factor in the continued expansion of GPA’s inland ports and with the railway’s competitive rates will be key to the growth rate of this expansion. All of this was discussed with panel “A Deeper Reach: Expanding Savannah.” We heard discussion of next steps including unit trains to accommodate the growth at the port. “The vision for ‘a place for the freight to go’ through investing in infrastructure drives the one intermodal footprint idea that has led to our growth,” states rail partner, Jeff Haller, VP Intermodal and Automotive, Norfolk Southern Corporation.
It was evident when Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp spoke, he did so with tremendous pride while recognizing the successful partnerships between the State of Georgia, Georgia Ports Authority, Georgia Power, along with many of the workforce development organizations, railways and all the maritime industry relationships. These partnerships are able to work together for the good of Georgia, the Southeast and the U.S.
The United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) was an important topic to Governor Kemp when he mentioned several expansion projects including the resin plastics boon starting in 2019 and continuing into 2020.
“We are excited that Plastic Express chose to expand their operations here in Georgia,” said Governor Kemp. “The company’s impact will not only be felt in terms of job creation and investment, but they will be one of the top-five export customers for the Georgia Ports Authority.” Poultry was also discussed as a top exporting commodity. “As the nation’s largest poultry producer, Georgia stands to recapture a substantial portion of the Chinese market,” Kemp said. “Forty percent of all frozen poultry that leaves the United States does so through the Port of Savannah.”
In Georgia’s round table discussion: “Room to Grow? Analyzing the Economic Development Landscape,” Moderator Pedro Cherry, Executive VP, Customer Service & Operations for Georgia Power said, “One reason Georgia is continually ranked as one of the top states for business is the competitive energy prices Georgia Power and others services provided.” Site selection consultants, Chris Tomasulo and Darin Buelow, both praised Georgia for the smooth processes in place to facilitate permits and licenses for growing and expansion business. They agreed that the partnerships between state, port, energy companies and other business were a major factor in site selection.
This year’s theme “Field of Dreams” was presented by Griff Lynch, executive director of GPA. The announcement of an acquisition of 145 contiguous acres to the Port of Savannah created opportunities for more than one million twenty-foot equivalent container units in annual capacity. “As the GPA enters its 75th year, they proudly follow in the tradition of those who came before, making exciting advances in capacity and technology to ensure the terminals remain at the forefront of global commerce,” Lynch said. “This is the largest addition of container terminal space in Savannah in more than 20 years, and represents a powerful opportunity for Georgia to take on new trade.”
During his presentation, Lynch also announced that Garden City Terminal dock construction had been completed, and can now serve three 14,000-TEU vessels, and up to eight vessels simultaneously. The improved dock and additional container yard space are part of a larger blueprint to increase the GPA’s capacity to more than nine million TEUs by 2030. By 2023, the GPA will add an additional berth, for a total of four big ship vessel slots.
In order to improve service, Savannah’s Ocean Terminal will be partially converted to handle containers.
Renovations at Ocean Terminal, located just downriver from the main container port, will include a new truck gate, upgraded container yards and rubber-tired gantry cranes for container operations. “This exciting new development will allow the GPA to continue to meet and exceed the needs of our customers,” Lynch said.
Construction is currently under way on the upgrades. Phase I of the Ocean Terminal container yard is expected to be completed by the end of 2020. Lynch also outlined plans for the new Savannah Container Terminal, a nearly 200-acre facility to be built on Hutchinson Island. The new facility will have a capacity of 2.5 million TEUs when fully developed. Phase I is projected to come online in 2025.
To ensure the GPA remains on the cutting edge of port staffing and technology, Lynch announced an expansion of the Authority’s Y.E.S (Youth learning Equipment and Safety) program, in which high school graduates are hired and trained for equipment operator careers. GPA hopes to begin hiring 50 recent graduates per year to help meet staffing needs.
Equally as exciting, Lynch also unveiled a new program, dubbed GET SET (Sustainability, Efficiency, Technology). “The GET SET program is a competitive juried contest for college students in Georgia, in which they will be challenged to put forth innovative solutions to issues faced by the maritime logistics community,” Lynch said.
“Students or student teams submitting winning entries will receive a cash prize totaling $25,000.” He said that Georgia Ports Authority will be working with universities across the state to integrate the GET SET program into their curricula over the next year, with the first prize being awarded in the summer of 2021.
These workforce development initiatives are GPA’s answer to immediate workforce and staffing shortages and for continued future growth needs. Being able to provide a trained and local workforce will be key to GPA’s continued success.
Exports are vital in 2020 and GPA and area partners are expecting to burgeon. Energy including LNG is the reason behind this positive growth. The U.S. has become largely energy independent and much of this is exported through the East Coast.
With all the talk of growth and expansion, the GFTC emphasized a positive forecast for the port, the State of Georgia, and the Southeast while forward-looking into 2040. One of GPA’s main goals is to continue to be a good community and state partner. The Georgia Ports Authority is set to continue their course of action while experiencing a steady and stable growth rate.