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Georgia ports economic impact discussed

At the Global Trade Forum 2012 at the Hilton Garden Inn, James McCurry, Jr., director of administration, Georgia Ports Authority, said the port at Savannah is to be deepened to receive larger cargo ships passing through the Panama Canal.

At the Global Trade Forum 2012 at the Hilton Garden Inn, James McCurry, Jr., director of administration, Georgia Ports Authority, said the port at Savannah is to be deepened to receive larger cargo ships passing through the Panama Canal.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The importance of Georgia ports and their part in the broadening global economy were presented by a three-person panel at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Global Trade Forum 2012 were James McCurry Jr., director of administration, Georgia Ports Authority; Bruce Drennan, executive director, Cordele Crisp Industrial Development Council and Eric Bretan, director, Capital Markets Group, Sun Trust Robinson Humphrey. The forum was moderated by Ed Lightsey, senior correspondent, Georgia Trend Magazine, and sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

The forum began with Bretan using pie charts to illustrate "globalization" in the sense of economic trade. According to Bretan's data, in 1995 some 66 percent of total global gross domestic product was produced by just six countries with "developing" nations producing the rest. Fifteen years later, developing nations produced more than 50 percent of global GNP. Bretan called the 1996 figures "unsustainable" in the long run with the growing share of developing nations a positive trend.

"You don't want this kind of percentage driven by just six countries," Bretan said. "At the end of the day, how many McDonald's can you put on I-75? What you can do, though, is put more McDonald's in Shanghai or Hong Kong."

In response to the question posed by Lightsey, "how can we make money from the Georgia ports?" Bretan said he would take advantage of what he sees as massive growth in trade with emerging nations by investing in those areas which have access to "great ports" and have access to trade.

In response to the explosion in global trade and the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate much larger cargo ships, the Obama administration recently announced a "We Can't Wait" initiative to fast-track the modernization of five East coast ports in Jacksonville, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Charleston and Savannah.

Pending final approval, the Savannah port will be deepened from 42 feet at low tide to 47 feet to accommodate the larger ships. The first of the larger vessels are expected in the canal as early as 2014, with 2015 more likely. According to McCurry, the Savannah port should be ready to receive the ships sometime in 2016.

At least one South Georgia community has found a way to benefit directly from the port in Savannah. According to Drennan, Cordele is unique in its link to Heart of Georgia Railroad, a short-line train with a direct connection with the port. Drennan said that after three separate feasibility studies, the city moved ahead with plans to ship Georgia products by rail to the ports in Savannah.

"We found we could bring the tankers to Cordele by rail about 50 percent cheaper than they could truck them from Savannah to Cordele," Drennan said. "That saves a lot of cost."

Drennan called the Cordele system "a true regional project," and sees the plan as an actual extension of the port itself.

"We're calling for the support of everyone in the community," Drennan said, "to get the word out about what a foreign trade zone can do for us."

According to the panelists, Georgia produces, ships and imports great quantities of a variety of products including private and military aircraft parts, poultry, automobiles and farm products. Surprising, one of Georgia's biggest exports is kaolin clay, used in a number of popular products, including cosmetics.

"Everything you produce in this part of the state is in demand throughout the world," McCurry said. "Your wood pulp may leave through the port of Savannah and come back as diapers from wherever it was manufactured. Georgia is one of the largest refrigerated poultry shippers. These are just two examples of how Georgia feeds the world."