By Guest Columnist CHRIS CLARK, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce
From our earliest days, Georgia’s economic success has stemmed from our prime location on the East Coast. Our forefathers understood how to leverage our geography to become a logistics and transportation hub, not only for the Southeast –but for the entire nation.
No one can deny the incredible economic opportunity that has resulted from continued investment into key assets such as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, our 5,000- mile commercial and freight rail network, and the deep-water ports in Savannah and Brunswick. Just last month, Caterpillar announced an expansion that will create 1,400 jobs, specifically citing our transportation infrastructure as one of the key reasons they chose Georgia.
As important as attracting companies to our state is giving them the ability to ship their goods throughout the world. Last year alone, Georgia’s exports grew by 20 percent – the highest level in a single year. Imports grew by 11 percent. And businesses of all kinds and sizes were able to grow and create jobs by taking advantage of global opportunities.
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, exporting globally creates twice as many jobs as trading domestically, and companies that are able to sell overseas grow an average of 18 percent faster – often needing new employees to accommodate that growth.
Given these facts, it is easy to understand why the deepening of the Savannah harbor is so important, not only to Georgia, but to the nation – which will experience $150 million in annual benefit from the project according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
By accommodating the larger ships that will begin to move through the Panama Canal in 2014 – ships three times bigger than the ones that can maneuver the canal today – businesses in Georgia and throughout the country will be able to export more goods overseas, further expand their companies, and create new opportunities for employment.
Regardless of what some may try to tell you, today’s economy is global and world trade will only continue to expand. We have a choice – to grow with it or to be left behind.
Fortunately, our state’s elected leaders have put their full support behind this critical project. Gov. Nathan Deal, and Gov. Sonny Perdue before him, ensured that the state was doing its part to fund the expansion. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been one of the project’s strongest supporters, traveling to Washington, D.C., regularly to help garner federal support, and members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation have been steadfast in their efforts to secure funding in the federal budget.
On the flip side – there are unfortunately still detractors who, despite the incredible benefits it would yield, are just as steadfast in their efforts to stop this critical project. People like Steve Willis of the Sierra Club (read last week’s guest column) would have you believe that this effort is more about Panama’s profits than our own nation’s success.
The fact is this project has been studied for well over a decade by numerous federal and state agencies. Cost-benefit and environmental impact have been well-vetted through a transparent process that included review by a unique group of stakeholders that included representatives of environmental and public interest groups.
President Barack Obama committed $2.8 million in his 2013 budget proposal, a 21 percent increase from the year before. And the Corps will hopefully soon release its final report allowing the project to move forward. One has to believe that any questions of project legitimacy were answered long ago.
As the state’s leading business advocacy organization, the Georgia Chamber has supported the Savannah Harbor deepening project since its inception and we will continue to do all that we can to support Gov. Deal and the Georgia Ports Authority as they work to bring this project to fruition – as should any organization that is truly committed to the future success of our state and its citizens.
Had we listened to those like Mr. Willis in the past – our international airport would be in Birmingham, the economic engine of Atlanta would not even exist, and you can be sure that there would not be 14 Fortune 500 companies calling Georgia home. Good decisions and smart investments have led to great success and history will prove that deepening the Savannah harbor will do the same.