Atlanta absorbs Savannah’s port; Mayor Reed becomes port’s local public face

By David Pendered

By osmosis, Atlanta has absorbed Savannah’s port.

Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, has become the local face of the proposed deepening of the Savannah Harbor. Atlanta’s media seems to pay more attention to the latest twists in the two-decade process of deepening the harbor than to progress on the new international terminal at Atlanta’s airport.

The main news out of last week’s State of the Ports luncheon was the number of jobs the ports created in the metro Atlanta area. Meanwhile, one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s comments – concerning the transportation sales tax referendum – barely registered.

Deal had made a connection between the growth of Savannah’s cargo business and the ability of the state’s roads and rail to handle the freight. Some of the cargo routes, both road and rail, are to be improved if voters from Atlanta to Savannah approve a proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation.

Next year, the campaign for the sales tax in districts south of Atlanta is expected to include a pitch on behalf of moving the port’s cargo. The governor stopped short of making such a statement.

“There are portions of the overall (cargo distribution) plan embedded in the T-SPLOSTs, so we hope they pass,” Deal said during a panel discussion.

Deal elaborated after the event.

“Without revenue from the T-SPLOST (transportation sales tax), we’ll have to ask local governments and the state to come up with the money,” Deal said to clarify his remark.

“It will just take more time and won’t be as easy,” Deal said.

The jobs outlook is important in all communities in Georgia, where the unemployment rate tops the national average. On the morning of the ports luncheon, the state released the ports-related employment economic impact figures for the Atlanta area.

The second paragraph of the media advisory could do no more to make Georgia’s ports an Atlanta story. The following figures presumably involve mainly Savannah’s two terminals, though the state does operate ports in Brunswick, Bainbridge and Columbus.

“In FY2011 alone, more than 1,500 new port-related jobs and $295 million in investment were created in the Atlanta region, according to new figures released today by the Georgia Department of Economic Development.”

The news advisory also provided a break-out of the value of freight dispatched through Savannah’s port on behalf of companies in six metro counties. Here’s the chart:

  • Fulton: $4,144,336,503;
  • Gwinnett: $1,561,881,063;
  • Cobb: $935,889,096;
  • Fayette: $551,499,241;
  • DeKalb: $533,564,080;
  • Clayton: $532,322,850.

The Atlanta connection to the ports was underscored by the luncheon itself. The event was hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, with support from three contributing sponsors based in suburban Atlanta:

  • The Home Depot;
  • The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, whose territory in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs includes a significant number of international businesses;
  • Efacec, a Portugese company with offices in Norcross, which chose Effingham County as the site of a power substation manufacturing plant in part so it could use the Savannah port.

The media advisory also highlighted the Atlanta mayor’s support for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor.

The deepening project has never enjoyed such visible support from an Atlanta mayor. The project has been underway since the early 1990s, right after the conclusion of the harbor’s previous dredging.

Click here to read the history of the project, as related by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This is Reed’s comment, according to the media advisory released by the Georgia Ports Authority:

“Deepening of the Savannah port helps to secure Georgia’s economic future as the capital of the southeast by creating jobs and positioning the state to become the logistics hub of the Western hemisphere,” Reed said.

“This project is consistent with President Barack Obama’s focus on improving the nation’s infrastructure and increasing our export capability.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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