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Automaker Kia likely beneficiary of Georgia inland port complex in state’s west-central region

 The Appalachian Regional Port in Chatsworth, Ga. in August 2018 (Photo: GPA)
The Appalachian Regional Port in Chatsworth, Ga. in August 2018 (Photo: GPA)

An inland distribution facility being considered for development by the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) in the west-central part of the state will mostly support the production of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc.’s vehicles as the Korean carmaker expands its operations there.

A slide in a presentation made by Wesley Barrell, GPA’s terminal manager, at an industry event on March 14 displayed a map of Georgia with dots highlighting three locations: The Appalachian Regional Port, which opened in August 2018 and is located in Chatsworth in the state’s northwest corner; a proposed facility near Gainesville in Georgia’s northeast region, the development of which was disclosed in November 2018; and a location in west Georgia, most likely in or around the city of LaGrange. The dot on the map had the Kia logo emblazoned next to it.

GPA operates the Chatsworth facility, its first such inland center, and would also operate the Gainesville location once it is built. No time frame has been given for that facility’s construction or completion.

Robert Morris, a GPA spokesman, said in an email today that the Port Authority is studying the feasibility of an inland port in the west-central region, and that officials believe the “location does have merit.” Other locations are also under consideration, Morris said. GPA has said it wants to expand its inland port network as a way to broaden its reach into interior markets while eliminating the cost, time and congestion of trucking goods five or six hours to and from the seacoast.

The inland port model substitutes rail service for trucks, allowing goods to move on a dedicated rail line between the port complex and the designated inland point. The service eliminates the need to truck goods through the heavily congested metro Atlanta area, and reduces the carbon emissions caused by commercial motor vehicles. CSX Transportation (NYSE:CSX) is responsible for operating the 388-mile line connecting Savannah with the Chatsworth center.

As envisioned by GPA, U.S. exporters in mid-American regions could use the network to get their products picked up by truck at their facilities, delivered locally to the railhead, and then shipped south to Savannah. A truck-only operation of that distance would be costly and time-consuming.

Barrell made his presentation at a regional logistics forum in Cartersville, Georgia, about 55 miles northwest of Atlanta. The event marked the near seven-month anniversary of the Chatsworth facility’s opening in August 2018. Craig Camuso, CSX’s regional vice president of state government affairs, said demand for the service – the project is dubbed the “Appalachian Regional Port” – has been steady and consistent since its launch. However, many prospective customers have adopted a “wait-and-see” approach before committing to it, Camuso said.

Kia has been manufacturing vehicles in West Point, located 16 miles from LaGrange, for 10 years. Components are imported through Savannah, where they are then trucked to the automaker’s assembly plant. Late last month, Kia began exporting finished versions of its “Telluride” sport utility vehicle (SUV), its largest vehicle ever built, out of Savannah’s sister port at Brunswick, a roll-on-roll-off, bulk and break bulk seaport, which is also run by GPA. The SUVs, capable of holding up to eight passengers, were destined for ports around the Arabian Peninsula. Kia plans to export about 3,000 vehicles from Brunswick per year.

By handling finished goods exports at Brunswick and imports of raw materials at Savannah, Kia is “taking advantage of Georgia’s extensive road and rail infrastructure, as well as its broader network of shipping line services,” GPA Board Chairman Jimmy Allgood said last month.

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.