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GPA’s Stacy Watson: Savannah, Brunswick ports keep booming

Stacy Watson, Georgia Ports Authority director of economic and industrial development

Posted on February 6, 2024

The Georgia Ports Authority continues to expand — and continues to keep its status as the U.S.’ fastest-growing port.

The port of Savannah is now No. 3 for the number of containers moved among U.S. ports, and it could become No. 2 within a decade, GPA director of economic and industrial development Stacy Watson said to the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Through People luncheon.

The GPA currently has $1.9 billion worth of construction projects in the ground right now, Watson said. Over the next 12 years, the organization projects to spend $4.5 billion in construction.

“We’re building,” he said. “There is a lot of construction. We’re investing in the future. We put our money where our mouth is.”

The Georgia Ports Authority, which includes its inland terminals, support more than 561,000 jobs across the state, also brings in $33 billion in income, $140 billion in revenue and nearly $4 billion in taxes to the state and local entities. As a public-private organization, 100% of the GPA’s profits go back into its facilities, Watson said.

The Garden City terminal at the Savannah port has grown and now has nearly 9,500 feet of berths and now covers 1,500 acres, up from 1,200 acres. It is the largest single container complex in North

America, Watson said Currently, the Savannah port can handle up to 7.5 million TEUs, or 20-foot equivalents, in containers a year. That number is projected to go to 10 million by 2026 and 13 million by 2033.

Los Angeles/Long Beach, the nation’s top container port, handle more than 16 million TEUs a year. New York/ New Jersey are No. 2 at 8.3 million. But both are limited in space to grow. Savannah’s port is seeing 5.3 million TEUs a year currently.

From 2006-23, the Savannah port’s business grew by about 6%.

“We’re still the fastest- growing port in the nation,” Watson said.

Business slipped in 2023 from 2022, as the ports container volume went from a record 5.8 million TEUs to 5.4 million. Watson said that can be attributed to people doing less shopping. GPA officials said higher inflation rates and interest rates slowed consumer spending resulting in higher inventories in warehouses.

The port had 4.4 million TEUs across its docks in 2020 and 5.3 million in 2021 and a drought in Panama has limited the number of ships that can transit the canal on a weekly basis.

The Savannah port has on average 36 vessels a week at its facilities.

“We are on the right trajectory,” Watson said.

Savannah is the nation’s top port for exports, Watson proclaimed. Among the products leaving the port for the rest of the world are Georgia kaolin, pine trees and pine products, cotton, plastic pellets and frozen poultry.

“The state of Georgia is blessed to have an abundance of export commodities,” he said.

The ports also are looking ways to decrease the number of trucks coming in and out of gates to haul the millions of containers across the country.

Work has started on the Blue Ridge connector in Hall County, outside of Gainesville, which will have an annual capacity of 200,000 containers a year, all shipped by rail. The 104-acre facility will link to the port’s Mason Mega Rail, which GPA boasts is the largest on-dock rail facility in North America.

Currently, the port moves about 20% of its cargo by rail and 80% by truck to inland stops. The Mason Mega Rail, which opened in 2023, has a capacity for 2 million TEUs.

Another inland rail port, in Chatsworth, is handling about 35,000 containers a year and is expected to have a capacity of about 75,000 containers annually.

“It takes a few trucks off the road and it is very environmentally friendly,” Watson said. “We like rail. It’s an advantage not a lot of ports have.”

Watson said GPA is looking at doing something in west Georgia to service Kia’s plant in West Point.

GPA’s Brunswick port continues to set records as one of the nation’s top ports for roll-on/roll-off cargo. It is the nation’s second busiest ro-ro port, behind only Baltimore, and Watson said the GPA expects Brunswick to surpass Baltimore to become the nation’s top port for roll-on/roll-off.

The Brunswick port handled a record number of autos and machinery in 2023, with 775,565 units. That represents a 15.6% increase over 2022.

The Savannah port’s Garden City West terminal can handle up to 1 million TEUs a year, and the GPA will convert the Ocean terminal to all container traffic. That will add another 2 million TEUs to the port’s capacity.

GPA also owns 450 acres across the Savannah River, with plans to build the Savannah Container Terminal there. That will give the port another 3 million TEUs in capacity.

“We’ve got the ability, the land and the wherewithal to grow,” Watson said. “Our future is bright.”

The ports have hired a sustainability director to make sure the ports are expanding in a way that limits the impact on the environment.

“We want to make sure we are good stewards of the environment,” Watson said.


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