Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz and Caterpillar Vice President Steve Larson gathered Tuesday for a panel discussion at the Georgia Chamber of Commerceâ€™s fourth annual State of the Port event in Atlanta.
Leading their discussion was the weekend announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy had signed the Record of Decision for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. This major milestone for SHEP completes the federal governmentâ€™s review of the projectâ€™s justification, and affirms that deepening the Savannah harbor to 47 feet is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and in the best interests of the nation.
â€śThis is a historic moment for the state of Georgia, and a great day for the nation,â€ť said Gov. Deal. â€śVery few federal infrastructure projects yield $5.50 for every dollar invested, so taxpayers will receive a handsome return on the Savannah harbor expansion.â€ť
Georgia has already committed $181.1 million to the project, which is expected to cost at total of $652 million.
The Administrationâ€™s approval comes after 15 years of study and unprecedented collaboration between GPA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries Service, and other federal and state agencies, as well as non-governmental stakeholders, to identify and address all concerns.
An expansion of the Panama Canal, due for completion in 2015, will accommodate larger container ships. Corps of Engineers studies show that Post-Panamax vessels more efficiently served by a deeper harbor will lower shipping costs for containerized trade by $174 million a year over the next 50 years, for a total economic benefit of $8.7 billion during that span. Decreased costs per container will lower the bottom line for the more than 21,000 U.S. businesses shipping via the Port of Savannah.
â€śShips such as the 9,200-TEU MSC Roma already call on Savannah via the Suez Canal,â€ť said GPA Vice Chairman Steve Green. â€śThe Panama expansion is expected to increase the number of these larger ships calling on the U.S. East Coast, so it is vital that our ports prepare for this new class of vessels.â€ť
â€śThe Corpsâ€™ decision is a crucial step for a project more than a decade in the making,â€ť said Foltz. â€śIt is a leap forward for Americaâ€™s global competitiveness.â€ť
Besides the harbor expansion, the three leaders spoke about the portsâ€™ impact on jobs and commerce, and their importance to the Southeastâ€™s economic future. In FY2012 alone, 5,300 new port-related jobs and more than $1.8 billion in investment were announced statewide, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. (See jobs chart)
â€śThese figures are more than numbers â€” they represent the growth of opportunity for our citizens,â€ť said Deal. â€śSuch strong job creation signals that our economy is on the path to recovery, and that Georgiaâ€™s business friendly climate has helped us stand out against our competition.â€ť
One major FY2012 announcement was Caterpillarâ€™s new plant near Athens. Total investment for the new facility will be about $200 million. The 1 million square-foot facility is expected to employ 1,400 people. Caterpillar estimates another 2,800 full-time jobs will be created among suppliers and other companies that will support the plant. Caterpillar said the site was chosen, in part, because of its proximity to the ports of Savannah and Brunswick.
â€śThis facility will become Caterpillarâ€™s global source for small track-type tractors. For mini hydraulic excavators, the new facility will provide completed machines for customers in North and South America,â€ť said Larson, who serves as Caterpillar Logistics president and vice president of Caterpillar Inc. â€śIn addition, we plan to export partially assembled mini excavator base units to a facility in Europe, where final assembly will take place, improving delivery times for European customers.â€ť
Foltz said deepening the Port of Savannah will help maintain Georgiaâ€™s economic momentum by supporting existing jobs, creating new opportunities and strengthening the stateâ€™s position as the logistics hub of the Southeast.
Georgia Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Clark agreed, saying, â€śThere is nothing more important to Georgiaâ€™s competitiveness in the future than the SHEP, and youâ€™d be hard-pressed to find an elected official or businessperson to disagree. From infrastructure and transportation to logistics, SHEP far outweighs everything else.â€ť
Press Release, October 31, 2012