Surprise! Government-run Savannah, GA Port Outstrips competitors

Here’s some of the reasons why.

Let’s talk about trade, infrastructure, and private enterprise versus government. What’s happening in Savannah, GA is eye-opening.

The Port of Savannah is the subject of a NY Times article focusing on how management by government coupled with planned investment in infrastructure is creating a boom — and putting Savannah in position to grow even more. Patricia Cohen and Natalie Kitroeff see how the port’s ability to handle container ships and transfer containers to rail and trucks is attracting trade from around the world. International companies are locating in the region to take advantage of it all.

…The nation’s fourth-busiest gateway, the state-run Savannah port has tripled its traffic since 2000, bathing the region in tens of thousands of jobs. It has helped draw the manufacturing operations of foreign automakers to the region, and has a reputation for big ideas and nitty-gritty efficiency.

One thing going for it is the fact that port operations are centralized.

… in Savannah, unlike other major ports in the country that lease to different terminal operators, the ports authority runs the whole show. 

…this southern port in a conservative, pro-business state — home to the first city to outsource its entire municipal government — has a competitive advantage that other ports lack. It is run solely by the government.

“A private owner would not have the same outlook,” Mr. Powers of TradePort Logistics said. “The port’s mission is not to create profit for themselves but to provide services and create jobs for the region.”

emphasis added

They’re investing in infrastructure — big time! 

…an empty patch of freshly bulldozed dirt is the first spot at the sprawling Garden City Terminal that Griffith Lynch, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, wants to show off.

That is the site of a new $127 million rail depot that will enable double-decker trains as long as the National Mall to be loaded right at the port. It is one piece of a larger vision that Mr. Lynch contends Savannah is uniquely positioned to achieve: Shippers here will be able to deliver goods to Midwestern cities in the time it takes other ports to finish heaving cargo off a boat.

The numbers for the new rail depot are impressive. 

…GPA officials anticipate the new terminal will begin coming online by fall 2019, with project completion in the fall 2020.

When the project is completed, Garden City Terminal will have 180,000 feet of rail, 18 working tracks and the capability of building 10,000-foot unit trains on terminal. The expansion will allow GPA to bring all rail switching onto the terminal, avoiding the use of nearly two dozen rail crossings — including those on state Highways 21 and 25 — for improved vehicle traffic flow.

We really need to get more traffic off roads and onto rails — this will do it in a big way. About a quarter of the greenhouse gases produced every year in the US come from transportation. Of that quarter, rail contributes just 2%. Rail is much more energy efficient than rubber wheels rolling on highways — and could go zero carbon if Solutionary Rail’s proposals ever become national policy.

The Georgia Port Authority is looking at all the pieces:

…This approach extends to the transportation hub, which is undergoing bridge, road and interchange modernizations designed to streamline port traffic. To finance the increased capacity on Georgia’s roads, the state passed a gas tax indexed to inflation and fuel efficiency.

The port’s coordinated investments are helping it lure ships away from the West Coast — which is more vulnerable to trade tensions with China — and nip at the heels of the Port of New York and New Jersey, its biggest rival in the East.

“Infrastructure drives jobs,” said Ms. Ogden of PortFresh Logistics. “Georgia gets it.”

All of this investment and planning is paying off with job creation.

…Nearby is a Mitsubishi Hitachi plant that makes gas and steam turbines. Its location six miles from the port was a key factor in the decision to set up manufacturing there, said Peter Mierke, the plant’s general manager. The state and local governments paid for a rail spur to deliver the giant turbines directly from the warehouse to the docks.

…Kia opened a factory in Georgia in 2009. Part of the draw was the port, which was already knee deep in its infrastructure overhaul. The company was impressed, said Corinne Hodges, a spokeswoman for Kia, with “how quickly can a truck get in and out and how fast can freight get off the boat and get its way into the plant.”

emphasis added

So, let’s think about all the things happening here. Government control of the port. (Socialism!!!) Investment in infrastructure — and doing it as part of a overall plan. (Planning!!!) Raising taxes to pay for it, in ways that adjust for changing conditions and provide incentives towards desired goals. (Taxes = job creation!!!)

I’m pretty sure there’s more to this story, but damn! It sure sounds like something from another country, and it seems to be working. No one tell FOX or the Koch Brothers about this, because they’ll go ballistic and try to kill it.

If anyone from Savannah or the surrounding area wants to chime in on how this is working, or on other points, please feel free to post some comments.

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