Bright future for Georgia ports

Moderated by Rick Badie

Georgia’s ports continue to set new highs as more containers, bulk goods and cars moved through state ports in the most recent fiscal year. Today, a state official writes about the increases in imports and exports, while a lumber executive credits the state’s overall business climate and terminal traffic for expanding his operation’s reach.

Port cargo increases are no accident

By Curtis Foltz

Georgia’s ports saw unprecedented trade in the past fiscal year. More containers, bulk goods and cars are supporting more than 352,000 jobs across Georgia. The rising tide of the economy is literally bringing more imports to our shores and sending more exports to global markets.

Georgia’s success is no accident. Like all enterprises thriving in the wake of the downturn, Georgia’s ports are benefiting from strategic investments and our ports’ ability to efficiently support growth.

The Port of Savannah handled 8 percent of U.S. containerized cargo volume and 10.9 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in the past fiscal year. Our five terminals in Brunswick and Savannah experienced strong growth across all major business sectors. We moved more than 29 million tons of cargo, an 8 percent increase, including a significant increase in exports of renewable energy wood pellets to Europe. We handled 3 million 25-foot-equivalent container units, a 6 percent increase. More than 700,000 auto and machinery units, a 10 percent increase, rolled through our Colonel’s Island Terminal.The global recovery is encouraging more exports, and the strengthening U.S. economy is inviting more imports. The near-even balance of both is unusual nationally. We benefit from strong demand for Georgia exports including forest products, kaolin clay, poultry and other agricultural products.

The Port of Savannah is Atlanta’s port. It supports about 100,000 metro area jobs. Atlanta’s proximity to Savannah — 100 miles closer than to any other port — is a strategic advantage to the Port of Savannah. Atlanta is a transportation, logistics and distribution center second to none, affording Georgia’s port unequaled access to the Southeast.

But nothing has contributed more to our success than the commitment of Georgians to invest in greater efficiencies in our ports, making them more attractive to cargo owners and shippers. Such efficiency can be the difference in making a sale in the global marketplace.

No initiative is more important to that efficiency, of course, than the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. It will deepen the channel to 47 feet and result in savings by allowing larger PostPanamax vessels to operate more efficiently and experience fewer tidal and transit delays. Thanks to Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly, we have in place $266 million to begin construction, anticipated before year’s end.

Investments on the land-side terminal are also crucial to ongoing success. For example, recent improvements include more efficient cranes, more refrigerated cargo capacity and cargo-moving technology. Transportation infrastructure improvements, such as the Jimmy Deloach Parkway Extension, will bring I-95 directly into the port, reducing driving time and congestion.

These investments pay dividends. Georgia’s ports are contributing $18.5 billion in income, $66.9 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in state and local taxes to the state’s economy.

Similarly, railroads serving the port have invested in efficiency; growing rail volumes are reducing road truck traffic. And the private sector is leveraging these public investments with investments in infrastructure, such as warehousing in proximity to the Savannah port.

Our focus on efficiency is unceasing. It is at the heart of our success. It is the reason we are bullish on the future. Already in the first month of the new fiscal year, we’ve seen continued momentum. We reached an all-time high in container trade last month, a nearly 20 percent increase over last year.

Improved confidence among U.S. retailers, newly added port customers and shifting cargo from West Coast to East Coast fuel the cargo volumes. The Savannah port has space to more than double its throughput as more shippers choose East Coast ports to serve the Southeast. We can all look forward to this powerful engine continuing to create jobs and economic opportunity.

Curtis Foltz is executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

Georgia attributes a good match for lumber producer

By Duncan Davies

For more than 10 years, Interfor has been systematically acquiring and upgrading mills to position itself as one of the world’s largest lumber providers. Today, we have lumber operations in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and, most recently, Georgia.

The decision to expand to Georgia was the result of an in-depth review of opportunities in the North American lumber industry. We wanted to identify a location with a strong timber supply and stable and supportive investment climate. Georgia was an excellent fit.

We acquired our first mills in Georgia in 2013. It was a key strategic move. One year later, with six mills in the state and annual production of nearly 900,000 board feet, we are Georgia’s largest single lumber producer.We believe the future is very bright for the lumber industry. The U.S. housing market is on the path to recovery, and the use of wood is on the rise. Builders, architects and governments worldwide are recognizing that wood is the ultimate building product, not just for its beauty but for its strength, safety and sustainability. Leading architects and builders are looking to wood as the sustainable solution for the future.

Georgia is at the forefront of this movement. Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill that allows more wood to be used in public school construction. The governor’s policy builds on a program recently announced by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, which provides financial support for advanced wood products and applications that will drive demand for wood and eventually lead to wood skyscrapers.

Experts believe there is an opportunity to grow the market for wood products in the United States by an extra 20 percent over and above the expected housing market recovery. That means everyone wins because this leads to more investment, more jobs and stronger communities.

At Interfor, we believe Georgia provides the investment climate necessary to pursue these opportunities while ensuring our long-term success in the state. Georgia has:

• Favorable log supply and productive and sustainable forests. Today, there are 24 million acres of working forests in Georgia, including Southern yellow pine, which complements our already diverse species mix.

• Proximity to the largest lumber market in North America.

• Robust infrastructure, with strong rail and highway networks and two of the most efficient and well-managed ports in the world.

• A strong forest-sector workforce. We have hired more than 800 Georgians and are impressed with their commitment to excellence as well as our core values.

From the moment we arrived in Georgia, local and state governments made it clear: Interfor’s success matters. We were introduced to great programs such as Georgia QuickStart, which helped us set up a training program for 65 new manufacturing positions at our Baxley Mill. Today, Interfor generates significant economic activity in Georgia. We’ve invested $20 million in our mills since they were acquired, and more investment is planned.

This year, we will buy 3.5 million tons of logs worth $140 million from 100 counties across the state. Moreover, we will sell 1.5 million tons of byproducts to other manufacturing facilities to create pulp, paper, biomass and other products. Many of these products, including Interfor lumber, will be shipped to overseas markets through the ports of Brunswick and Savannah.

Later this year, we will open a regional office in Peachtree City to support our Southeast operations.

We are proud of what we have accomplished, and we are proud to be in Georgia. Interfor has a lot to offer this state and its citizens, and Georgia has a lot to offer our company. Together, we have a bright future.

Duncan Davies is president and CEO of Interfor Corp.


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