Economy: Reporting On The Ports

Even in the worst economy since the Great Depression, the economic contribution of Georgia’s deepwater ports remains relatively constant.

The statewide economic impact for the 2009 fiscal year is $61.7 billion in sales, or 8.6 percent of the state’s total; $26.8 billion in state GDP, 6.8 percent of the total; and $15.5 billion in income, 4.6 percent of the total.

The ports are responsible for 295,422 jobs, full- and part-time, representing 6.7 percent of Georgia’s total employment.

The ports generated $3.5 billion in taxes for the federal government in 2009, $1.5 billion for the state and $1.1 billion in local taxes.

I was pleased – and somewhat surprised – to find that the fiscal year 2009 estimates were slightly higher than the economic impacts reported three years ago for fiscal year 2006 – $55.8 billion in sales and 286,476 jobs.

The bottom line is that Georgia’s ports generate substantial economic impacts, and they are an important stabilizing factor during periods of economic and financial stress. When the economic situation darkened, our deepwater ports were bright spots. The ports even managed to add jobs in the most challenging times experienced in generations.

The performance of our ports relative to other economic sectors and other U.S. ports reflects strong comparative advantages that allow them to expand their share of regional and national waterborne cargo traffic. These are the result of a series of strategic expansions over many years: The Port of Savannah is the only single container facility on the East Coast with two on-terminal intermodal container transfer facilities.

As the economy recovers and expands, Georgia’s ports are poised to outperform their peers by tapping directly into the growth taking place overseas, by diversifying the services that call on Georgia’s ports and by taking market shares from other U.S. ports.

In the second half of fiscal year 2009, the Georgia Ports Authority announced 11 new or reconfigured services that would start calling on the Port of Savannah; two of these services opened new markets for Georgia’s products in the Caribbean and Central America.

In May 2009 the world’s fifth largest ocean carrier – China Ocean Shipping Company – added Savannah to its vessel rotation; vessels of all of the world’s “Top 20” carriers now call on Savannah. The West African combination service now calls on Savannah as well.

The ports authority indicates that its top priority is the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen the harbor and will be the largest civil works project in Savannah’s history.

Also on the fast track are four “last-mile” projects dubbed “The Cargo Beltway” that must be completed to keep cargo moving along the last miles to and from the waterfront.

When these projects are completed, trucks will be able to access the Port of Savannah directly from both I-16 and I-95.

The long-term prospects for the port industry were enhanced by the 2008 agreement between the Georgia and South Carolina ports authorities to jointly develop and own the Jasper Ocean Terminal site, strategically located just a few miles from the open ocean.

The 2007 purchase of 175 acres of property on Hutchinson Island directly across from the Ocean Terminal will ensure that the Port of Savannah has ample land and waterfront to expand operations.

Deepwater ports are among Georgia’s strongest economic engines, fostering the development of nearly every industry. The ports are especially supportive of other means of transportation, as well as manufacturing, distribution centers and agriculture.

A failure to deepen the Port of Savannah to 48 feet will jeopardize many of these port-dependent industries and their jobs. Once the Panama Canal’s expansion is complete, the use of super post-Panamax vessels will increase dramatically, forcing shippers to move their largest and most lucrative operations to ports that can accommodate the larger ships.

Although containerized cargo shipments are likely to be the main force contributing to the growth of Georgia’s ports, they are well positioned to succeed in attracting increased cargo volume.

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