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Savannah volume down just 1% and total tonnage a record

Georgia Ports not sweating the small stuff during COVID-19 pandemic

The Port of Savannah handled 4.44 million twenty-foot equivalent units during the 2020 fiscal year. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)

A small dip can be a big win during a pandemic, when global supply chain disruptions have taken huge bites out of volumes at U.S. ports.

So the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) announcement Monday that fiscal-year volume at the Port of Savannah was down by less than 1% compared to the previous year wasn’t bad news. 

The Port of Savannah handled 4.44 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30.

And the GPA found good news where it could. It said that despite coronavirus-caused supply chain disruptions, total tons crossing all its docks reached a record 37.77 million, up 0.6% or 223,000 tons compared to fiscal year 2019. Container tons grew 2% or 56,440 tons to hit another record with 33.5 million tons. 

“Cargo volume reductions related to COVID-19 were offset by the strength of our export markets and record volumes earlier in the year,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said. 

Lynch said that even during challenging times, port activity coupled with ongoing expansion projects such as the harbor deepening and Mason Mega Rail have quickened the pace of commercial infrastructure investment. 

The GPA operates the deepwater ports of Savannah and Brunswick as well as inland terminals in Chatsworth, Bainbridge and Columbus, Georgia.

Lynch cited a recent report from Colliers International that 5 million square feet of industrial space is under construction in the Savannah market. Savannah also is home to 74.4 million square feet of warehouse and manufacturing space.

Lynch said in April that the coronavirus pandemic was wreaking havoc on global supply chains — and taking chunks out of volumes at U.S. ports.

“The longer this goes, the longer it’s going to take to get the ship righted,” Lynch said then. “At minimum, you’re talking about three-quarters of a year before we start seeing some positive numbers again.”

GPA Board Chairman Will McKnight said Monday the Port of Savannah’s expanding footprint sets it apart. 

“Not only are we focused on the future and providing even greater value to our customers, but we have nearly unlimited potential and capacity to grow our business,” McKnight said. 

The GPA said the Port of Savannah’s status as the third-largest container gateway in the United States, the nation’s top exporter of containerized agricultural goods and the fastest-growing port over a 10-year period continues to be a strong draw for economic development. 

For example, Port City Logistics recently announced an $80 million, 1.1 million-square-foot development in the Savannah market, the GPA said, adding that two major resin exporters are building out 2 million square feet of new space.

During the 2020 fiscal year, the Appalachian Regional Port (ARP) in northwest Georgia moved 27,132 containers — more than three and a half times the cargo it did the year before, Lynch said. 

“As more customers learn the value the ARP brings to their operations, the facility continues to gain traction and build momentum,” he said. “The inland port is a real success story for GPA and we forecast business there to continue growing.”

The ARP opened in August 2018 and handles a variety of products, including auto parts, flooring and raw materials. 

Lynch said in April that banking on variety rather than one product has paid off. “The nice thing about not having an anchor tenant is that you have a diverse cargo portfolio, and that’s what we’ve been building up there. That’s worked out well.”

At GPA’s board meeting Monday, Lynch reported the first nine of 18 Mason Mega Rail tracks are moving cargo at the Port of Savannah; two mobile harbor cranes have been added to Savannah’s Ocean Terminal; and a container yard will be completed there by the end of the year.

Twenty new rubber-tired gantry cranes are slated to arrive at Savannah terminals by December and three rail-mounted gantry cranes are scheduled to go into the service by the end of fiscal year 2021, Lynch said. Construction soon will commence at Berth 1 at Garden City Terminal to enable it to handle vessels of more than 15,000-TEU capacity. The GPA also is upgrading Berth 2 at Colonel’s Island in Brunswick, Georgia, for dedicated roll-on/roll-off service.

Lynch said adding container yard space, doubling rail capacity to 2 million TEUs per year and growing the fleet of yard and vessel cranes all are parts of the GPA’s plan to increase annual capacity from 6 million to 11 million TEUs.

“We’re confident in the long-term strength of the U.S. economy and our ability to help port users reach their customers more effectively,” he said. “We’re building now to be ready to take advantage of new opportunities.”

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Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.