The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) typically delivers its annual State of the Port address during a luncheon crowded with politicians and power brokers from global shipping lines.
To keep its audience entertained without a three-course meal, the GPA served up a virtual State of the Port event Thursday with a “College GameDay” format, complete with a play-by-play ticker of port activity scrolling across the bottom of the screen.
GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch threw out some cheer-worthy numbers, including that the ports set a monthly record in September, growing the number of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) handled year-over-year by 11.4%, or 42,140, for a total of 412,148 TEUs moved in the month.
In the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, July 1 through Sept. 30, the Port of Savannah handled 1.2 million TEUs, an increase of 1.6%, or 19,663 TEUs, over the same period last year, Lynch said.
Will McKnight, chairman of the GPA board and co-host of the State of the Port, said helping to bring new business to Georgia is part of the ports authority’s central mission — and a main reason it is increasing capacity.
“We’re making strategic expansions to ensure cargo fluidity as Savannah’s container trade increases,” McKnight said. “Our long-term infrastructure investments ensure GPA is ready when our customers are ready to grow.”
Among ongoing infrastructure improvements:
— The Savannah Harbor expansion project, which includes deepening the harbor to 47 feet, is 75% finished, with completion expected in late 2021.
— The Mason Mega Rail Terminal will double the Port of Savannah’s annual rail capacity to 2 million TEUs. Nine new working tracks have been commissioned, with another nine slated for completion in 2021.
— The expansion of container-handling capabilities at Ocean Terminal to serve smaller ships while berth renovations are ongoing at Garden City will be completed by the end of this year.
— The straightening of Berth 1 to allow Garden City Terminal to dock four 15,000-plus-TEU vessels and three additional vessels simultaneously will take approximately two years.
— The expansion of container storage onto 145 acres that were recently added to the now-1,345-acre Garden City Terminal.
In a recorded statement, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said private development projects delivering thousands of jobs and millions of square feet of industrial space mean the long-term outlook for the state’s ports is strong.
“Over the past year, our nation has faced unprecedented challenges that have impacted our daily lives and our economy. We’ve had to rethink how we handle the logistics of health care, retail, manufacturing — and the global trade that supports these endeavors,” Kemp said. “Through it all, our ports have remained steady, keeping cargo moving, attracting investment and building market share.”
Sitting at the GameDay table on the dock at the Port of Savannah, Commissioner Pat Wilson of the Georgia Department of Economic Development said the state has been able to maintain momentum in attracting new businesses despite the pandemic.
“We have more projects than we have probably ever had,” Wilson said. “This is not a true recession in the sense of there was a decline in need, it’s just that the world shut down. Businesses are taking this opportunity to make investments to continue to grow, and they’re planning for the future, for when we come back.”
Georgia reportedly won $7.4 billion worth of projects in sectors including manufacturing, logistics and technology in fiscal year 2020. In the ports’ neighboring Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties alone, private investors announced more than $500 million in industrial projects during the last fiscal year.
During the event, Lynch announced the state had landed a 1.2 million-square-foot facility in Bryan County to be built by medical goods provider Medline Industries. Construction is expected to be complete in late 2021, with FedEx leasing 415,000 square feet to provide e-commerce capabilities.
Among other recent economic development announcements:
— MSI Tile plans a 675,000-square-foot distribution center in Chatham County that will bring 20,000 TEUs of new business to the Port of Savannah annually and create 225 jobs.
— Logistics provider World Shipping is opening a 280,000-square-foot facility in Savannah in November.
— Georgia Exports Co. has established a location 1.5 miles from the Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County, where it will load logs into containers for export. GEC is expected to export more than 28,000 TEUs annually.