ICYMI: The most recent segment of the AJC's "Port Wars" series outlines the vastly important role that the Port of Savannah plays for Georgia's economy, making our push for federal funding one in which we can't afford to lose. READ MORE
A full-page color photo of a container ship appears immediately after Gov. Nathan Deal’s introductory letter in the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative’s final report.
That’s no surprise, given the significance of the Port of Savannah to Georgia’s economy. And with the back and forth of international trade, ports are big players for states blessed with oceanfront real estate.
Which makes the ongoing health of Savannah’s port worth fighting for as politicians and port officials nationwide seek federal funding for improvements to accommodate larger ships.
More to the point, in the absence of a national strategy governing how Washington divvies up taxpayer dollars to pay for work on U.S. ports, Georgia has no rational choice but to keep rowing toward full funding of the $650 million deepening project to keep Savannah competitive. It’s every state, and port, for itself until this nation gets better metrics to judge competing projects.
We’ve got a strong story to tell Washington, and we must keep repeating it to all who will listen. Savannah’s harbor ranks fourth in the nation in the number of shipping containers handled in 2011. That’s impressive, considering the marine terminal sits 30-plus miles upriver from open ocean.
Georgia’s other strong commercial advantages have helped make the long sail up the Savannah River worthwhile for shipping companies. Atlanta played a large part in creating that attractive business climate, given its status as a business and logistics nexus.
The Georgia Department of Transportation’s 2010-2050 freight logistics plan puts it this way: “The Port of Savannah is a critical facilitator of international trade. It provides access to global customers for companies based in Georgia. It also provides internationally produced goods to the shelves of stores across the state.”
And a 2010 report by the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth cites the $61.7 billion in economic impact of the state’s ports and the 295,443 full- and part-time jobs “supported” by their operation.
Those kinds of numbers are what led fiscally conservative Gov. Deal to speak of the federal government’s responsibility in the AJC’s “Port Wars” series last week. “We just have to hold the federal government accountable so they live up to their obligation,” he said. Deal is correct in that it would be preferable for Washington to come up with the $400 million Georgia says is needed.
The governor is wise also to say he’s working on other options in case the sought-after money doesn’t head to Georgia. A think-tank expert writing last week in the AJC mentioned a public-private funding scenario for the Savannah work, an option that’s being used elsewhere. Whatever gets this needed job done in a cost-effective way is worth consideration.
While the Savannah River deepening and port improvements have garnered most of the attention, Southerners should also keep in mind the proposed joint project by South Carolina and Georgia to develop a new port in Jasper County. In our view, both states would best serve their respective economic interests and those of the greater Southeast by continuing to focus on this collaborative project intended to help meet expected demand for port services through 2050.
Both states working together on the port proposed for Jasper should help the Southeast compete against other regions vying to host the larger ships now being built.
Between the public and private sectors, Georgia should get this work done. There’s always uncertainty and ambiguity in economic development, as in life. Businesses bet a dollar today in expectation of earning more than that down the road. Smart governments do the same thing, as they work to stay ahead of, or at least abreast with, infrastructure needs. When that’s done well, it’s called investment. When done poorly, it’s a boondoggle.
With the advantages offered by Georgia and its ports, investments therein won’t fall into the latter category, we believe.