By David Pendered
In the push to deepen the Port of Savannah, one issue that’s not received much attention is how the facility will handle the hoped-for increase in cargo that’s driving the desire to serve bigger ships.
The Georgia Ports Authority does have a $1.4 billion plan to expand its cargo handling capacity. What’s still to be created is a better network to attract and manage goods heading to and from the port, said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz.
To meet the challenge, GPA has devised a concept named Network Georgia to compete in six states for the oceanic shipping business. The size of the area covered by this business development model is more in keeping with the Louisiana Purchase than even the mega-region maps that put Atlanta near the center of future growth in three states.
Network Georgia divides the Southeast into six zones. Each zone is to have at least one inland port. Each inland port is to serve as a regional hub for goods heading to or coming from the Savannah port.
The first inland port created under this scenario was in Cordele, in southwest Georgia. The state in 2013 signed a memorandum of understanding with Cordele Intermodal Services, a private company, to provide truck-to-rail transfer service and direct access to the Savannah and Brunswick ports along a 200-mile rail line.
The idea is for CIS to link manufacturers in Georgia, and parts of Alabama and Florida, with Savannah, according to CIS President Jonathan Lafevers.
“Large shippers in Albany and Tifton, Ga., Montgomery and Mobile, Ala., and Tallahassee, Fla., will benefit from our services,” Lafevers said last year in a statement. “The inland port concept has also generated tremendous interest in the Cordele area from shippers and other logistics-based companies looking to relocate near our facility.”
Foltz said the next inland port is to be created in northwest Georgia. Details have not been determined.
“We are taking the districts one at a time, and making sure we have good rail and road access in those areas,” Foltz said. “Network Georgia is taking us well beyond the port [and] it builds a stronger base for commerce for inland locations in the port network.”
Network Georgia covers a region that takes in all of Georgia as well as portions of Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Georgia isn’t unique in fostering a network of inland ports. But it is proceeding in a way that certainly seems overtly ambitious.
Incidentally, Atlanta is following a similar business development model at its airport. By aggressively growing capacity and amenities, the city’s aviation planners intend for Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport to smother competitors in cities such as Charlotte and Tampa.
In the competitive oceanic shipping business, for example, North Carolina’s State Ports Authority touts inland ports in Greensboro and Charlotte. According to the N.C. ports website, both of those inland ports are: “Strategically located at the heart of manufacturing and distribution sites in the Southeast.”
Network Georgia dwarfs North Carolina’s distribution network. Here are the general boundaries:
- West: From Mobile, Ala. north through Montgomery to near Nashville, Tn.;
- North: A wandering line from near Nashville to the Tri-Cities region of Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol; south to a point in Georgia that skips the automotive manufacturing center in Greenville, S.C.; then northeast to Columbia, S.C. and straight along the I-20 corridor to Myrtle Beach.
- East: From Myrtle Beach south, through Charleston, to a stopping point midway down the Florida peninsula, near Palm Bay.
- South: From near Palm Bay, west through Orlando to Tampa, north along Florida’s Forgotten Coast through Panama City, and ending at Mobile Bay.
Admittedly, this region is smaller than the Louisiana Purchase. But it certainly heats up the competition with ports in those states as Georgia seeks to grow its ports trade.
“It’s part of the larger initiative we are taking in order to take our port connectivity to a new level,” Foltz said.