Georgia Ports Authority President: GPA ‘All-In’ on Building Best Gateway for U.S. Supply Chains

Staff Report

Friday, October 13th, 2023

Griff Lynch, president and CEO of the Georgia Ports Authority, provided an update on the Port of Savannah’s progress and future trajectory to 1,200 leaders from the maritime, supply chain, business and political sectors on Oct. 12, 2023, at the annual State of the Port event in Savannah, Ga. Photo credit: Georgia Ports Authority

Georgia Ports Authority leaders presented an update on the port’s $1.9 billion master plan and infrastructure investments at the Savannah State of the Port event on Oct. 12, 2023. The capacity crowd of 1,200 included state and local political leaders, GPA customers, maritime/logistics industry executives, investors, developers and supply chain partners.  

“As economic engines for the state and our gateways to the global market, the ports in Savannah and Brunswick are essential to maintaining Georgia’s unprecedented and decade-long status as the No. 1 state for business,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “Job creators consistently cite the Peach State’s responsible government, top-ranked workforce training program, and world-class infrastructure as key reasons the state has held this title and for the record trade and commerce our state has enjoyed. I’m thankful the GPA is making strategic moves to keep it that way.”

Several trends are shaping the future of GPA’s strategic market position. The population of the U.S. Southeast has grown by 9 percent since 2012, adding 6.5 million people and increasing consumer demand. The fastest growing states are Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. This trend has also resulted in manufacturing shifting to the Southeast, with major brands establishing a presence. 

“We’re getting ready for the next upswing of cargo. Every company needs access to a competitive port system. Governor Kemp’s leadership is helping us achieve this through a pro-business approach with a strong Economic Development team which continues to attract and win major companies to the Peach State,” said GPA Board Chairman Kent Fountain. “Ports are huge economic engines for growth, and we are ensuring Georgia Ports grows in a responsible, intelligent way for the future and brings the community along with us to benefit from new jobs and philanthropic partnerships.”  

Source shifting in Southeast Asia – as customers and ocean carriers respond to a “China plus one” sourcing trend – also favors U.S. East Coast delivery. Southeast Asia shipping routes to the U.S. East Coast via the Suez Canal are five days faster than U.S. West Coast routings. 

The growth of India as the world’s largest population, with an expanding consumer class, represents new business opportunities for GPA customers; about a dozen weekly India services currently call GPA.  Equally important, more global supply chains have shifted from the U.S. West Coast to the U.S. East Coast, with East Coast ports now handling 54 percent of the nation’s global trade.

“We need to be ready for future economic cycles. We’re talking to customers and designing a gateway port and inland supply chain that meets their long-term requirements. We’re all-in on this. The decisions we make will decide who we become as we prepare for the next wave of future cargo,” said Georgia Ports Authority President and CEO Griff Lynch. “Savannah’s ocean carrier customers are upsizing their vessels; 80 percent of the container ships entering the port are 11,000 TEU or larger.”

Georgia Ports provides one of the nation’s best-connected port operations, with 35 weekly ocean carrier services, additional terminal capacity and land available in Georgia to attract new business.  Inland connectivity is a GPA growth strategy, with 75 percent of the U.S. population within a 3- to 4-day rail trip from the Port of Savannah.  GPA will focus on a mid-American arc ranging from Dallas to Chicago and Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as other cities within a 200-mile radius of Savannah such as Charlotte, Rocky Mount, N.C., Tampa, Orlando and Miami. 

GPA handled volumes for FY2023 of 5.4 million TEU and forecasts 4-6 percent growth for the coming years.  At the Port of Brunswick, Roll-on/Roll-off cargo hit a record in FY2023, leading GPA to an overall growth of 17.7 percent over the previous year, at 723,515 units. 

“From finance and real estate to construction, manufacturing and logistics, the ecosystem of service providers that surrounds our ports plays a vital role in making sure that needed products reach store shelves and factory floors across the country,” said Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns. “Global trade not only supports the nation, but communities in every corner of the state – from Dublin to Rome, and Athens to Albany.” 

Mason Mega Rail – the strategic centerpiece to U.S. inland market connectivity

Mason Mega Rail Terminal provides rail capacity to serve inland markets and reduce traffic congestion on roads, while lowering emissions. 

Strong intermodal connections to locations more than 250 miles inland complements Georgia’s motor carrier network, and gives customers supply chain options. Mason Mega Rail provides the greatest on-dock rail capacity of any port in the Western Hemisphere.  

GPA has seen significant cargo volume growth at the Appalachian Regional Port (ARP) since opening the Northwest Georgia location five years ago, and now provides service to the ARP in only 36 hours.

A new partnership with CSX provides a Carolina Connector service to Rocky Mount, N.C., creating a faster supply chain in the market and opening Ohio Valley opportunities. Savannah’s position as a first port of call for ocean carriers transiting the Panama Canal means cargo will be available at Rocky Mount before containers could even be unloaded from a vessel at ports farther up the coast. 

Efforts are underway for a new partnership with Norfolk Southern to serve Northeast Georgia. The Blue Ridge Connector service to Gainesville, Ga., will open in 2026.  

Savannah workforce housing initiative

GPA recently announced an eight-year, $6 million pledge through Housing Savannah, Inc., and the Community Housing Services Agency, Inc. The Port of Savannah Area Workforce Housing Initiative is designed to improve quality of life and housing for individuals living in near-port communities. The program encompasses the repair, construction, and purchase of affordable and workforce housing to benefit low- and moderate-income homeowners, first time homebuyers and renters The initiative will prioritize home repairs for existing neighborhood residents and will also support eligible applicants with down payment assistance for first time home purchases in the Savannah area. 

Savannah infrastructure updates

Garden City Terminal: Has an annual capacity of 7.5 million TEU as the largest container terminal in the Western Hemisphere and can accommodate vessels up to 20,000 TEU. Renovations at Container Berth 1 were completed in August, creating another big-ship berth option and adding 1.5 million TEU of capacity. The terminal can now serve seven ships simultaneously, including four vessels with a capacity of 16,000+ TEUs. In tandem with the expanded berth, GPA ordered eight new STS cranes. The first four arrived in February and are operational. The next four (capable of 22 -wide, 24-wide reach) arrived in September and will be operational in January. At Container Berth 2, four more STS cranes are being erected and will be operational in December. All efforts are focused on getting Berth 2 operational to handle more ship calls and return to normal operations in two months. New cranes on Berth 9 will be ready early next year.    

Garden City Terminal West Storage Yard: A newly built, 100-acre container storage yard that is centrally located for longer-term storage needs with fewer drays required. Phase 1 of this new storage yard will open in November 2023 and provide one-stop storage location for exporters and importers with a dedicated truck gate to speed cargo flows and avoid traffic on local streets.   

Ocean Terminal refurbishment: Berth and container yard renovations are under way at Savannah’s 200-acre Ocean Terminal to serve two large container ships simultaneously and offer 2 million TEU annual capacity. Renovations to the first 1,325-foot berth will be completed in January 2025, with the second completed in June 2026, for a total of 2,650 feet of berth. Berth 13 construction starts in October 2023, with this portion closed for ship operations. 650 feet of new berth will be completed by the time the new STS cranes arrive in June 2024. Eight additional cranes have been ordered as part of the $1 billion refurbishment project. Entry and exit for truckers will be directly onto I-16/U.S. 17, minimizing neighborhood impact. The facility is transitioning from a container-Ro/Ro-breakbulk terminal into a container-only model so that the Port of Savannah will handle containers, and the Port of Brunswick will handle Ro/Ro and breakbulk. By February 2024, all non-containerized cargo at Ocean Terminal will transition to Brunswick. 

Trucker experience: More gates, extended hours and improved turn times are the goals to attract more trucking companies to Georgia. The South Atlantic Chassis Pool 3.0 was recently acquired by Oaktree and will infuse the Port of Savannah with new and high-quality, refurbished chassis.  

Savannah Transload Facility: Built by GPA and opened in September 2023, the facility is designed to complement the local Savannah supply chain ecosystem and offer transload services from international marine containers into domestic 53-foot truck trailers. The facility is managed by NFI, a third-party logistics provider, and adds 10,000 TEU of additional transload capabilities.  

Savannah warehouse vacancy rate is currently 4.32 percent in Savannah according to the most recent figures by CBRE. The optimal range is 6-8 percent vacancy, so GPA is looking to attract more investment by developers and investors. 

Port of Brunswick infrastructure improvements

Ro/Ro: GPA is expanding capacity to serve growing Ro/Ro cargo volumes by investing $260 million in Colonel’s Island at the Port of Brunswick, developing 640,000 square feet of new processing space, 122 acres of additional auto storage and a fourth Ro/Ro berth.  Georgia Ports Authority will host the State of the Port for Brunswick on Oct. 30 at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. For more information, contact the Brunswick Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce at (912) 265-0620.

Summary of supplier announcements in Georgia:

Hyundai Metaplant – $9.8 billion investment in Georgia for new electric vehicle manufacturing site that will generate over 14,000 jobs when opened in late 2024.

Burlington – New 2 million square foot warehouse operation.   

Bradshaw Home – Kitchenware manufacturer will open 1.2 million square-foot distribution center in Bloomingdale, Ga.

Kubota – Expanding its location in Gainesville, Ga.

Hwashin – Automotive part manufacturer creating 460 new jobs in Laurens County, Ga. 

DAS Corp – Automotive parts supplier creating 300 jobs and generating more than $35 million in Candler County, Ga.

Hanwha Q Cells, LG, GE – New locations now operating in the GPA inland port location of Appalachian Regional Port.

Aeronet Worldwide – Logistics services provider has opened its second location in Georgia, 180,000 square-foot warehouse eight miles from the Port of Savannah.  

In 2023, 38,400 new jobs and $24 billion in new investments were created in Georgia. The State has been ranked #1 in the nation to do business, for 10 years in a row by Area Development Magazine.