Incredible efficiencies at work in Georgia Ports

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Improving consumer confidence, new customers and shifting cargo from West to East Coast of the US are all reasons for good performance by Georgia’s deepwater ports — Savannah and Brunswick. For the fiscal ended in June 30 2014, the two ports managed by Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) posted significant numbers in container cargo, Ro/Ro, breakbulk and bulk cargo. The GPA is expected to carry on the growth momentum in the current fiscal as well. The port authority is making huge investment to improve facilities and infrastructure at different terminals of its two ports to attract more clients and increase the volume handled. Curtis Foltz, Executive Director, GPA, talks to The STAT Trade Times.  Could you explain some of the reasons why there has been significant improvement in cargo volume handled at Georgia Ports Authority’s Port of Brunswick and Port of Savannah for the 2014 fiscal? Improved confidence among US retailers, newly added port customers, and shifting cargo from the US West to East Coast are all fueling the growing cargo volumes at Georgia’s deepwater ports. New customers added in FY2014 included everything from sporting good and appliance makers, to produce marketers taking advantage of South America’s growing season to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the US consumers through the winter. In Ro/Ro traffic, the simple answer is the secret is out about the Port of Brunswick and its incredible efficiencies. New imports from Honda, exports from Toyota, and business from about 20 other auto manufacturers now takes advantage of our massive facility there and its superior connections to population centers around the region. At Brunswick’s Colonel's Island Terminal, import vehicles were up 17.25 percent over the previous fiscal year. Export vehicles were up 18.41 percent over the previous fiscal year. Heavy machinery such as construction equipment, agricultural equipment, boats buses etc. was up 35.26 percent. Meanwhile, static cargo was up 30.26 percent. At Savannah’s Ocean Terminal, export vehicles were up 46 percent over the previous fiscal year, thanks in part to new business from Nissan. The Ports of Brunswick and Savannah are strategically located to best serve the growing Southeastern US market. In addition, we have another 900 acres permitted for expansion in Brunswick, so we can easily accommodate new business in the roll-on/roll-off market without congestion worries. In the broader breakbulk category, plywood, rubber and machinery were influential in our FY14 improvement. Growth in bulk cargo was driven in part by strong exports of wheat, as well as wood pellets used as alternative energy sources. Corn imports necessitated by a drought in the Midwestern U.S. also increased bulk tonnage. Do you expect to see similar growth numbers in the current fiscal (2015)? What are your target numbers? The GPA expects to see similar growth in fiscal year 2015. We are conservatively estimating five percent growth in overall tonnage and container throughput, with our targets at roughly 31 million total tonnes and 3.3 million TEUs. Is there any specific segment in which you expect to see remarkable growth numbers in the current fiscal? If yes, what are some of the reasons? As more companies choose all-water routes to serve the US Southeast, we will see a steady expansion in containerised cargo. This growth will also be driven by the increasing number of distribution centers operated by retailers and by 3PLs.Similarly, private investments in new and expanding refrigerated storage facilities in the Savannah area will support an influx of refrigerated cargo.While agricultural exports such as poultry make up the majority of our cool-chain cargo, we expect refrigerated imports to expand as more produce companies tap the Port of Savannah to reach important markets such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis. How much of the total US containerised cargo is handled at the two ports managed by GPA? In calendar year 2013, the GPA moved 7.8 percent of all US containerised cargo. The overwhelming majority of GPA containerised cargo moved through the container port at Garden City Terminal, with a few containers also moving through the Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal. Update us on the GPA’s participation in a USDA pilot programme to transport fresh fruits from South America destined for Southeast markets which is likely to begin in September this year? Tell us some of the potential benefits of this programme for the shipper and the consumer and to what extend this programme makes trade more efficient? Starting September 1, the Port of Savannah will begin handling fruit from South America that has undergone cold treatment to prevent the transmission of agricultural pests. Through a pilot program of the US Department of Agriculture, imported citrus fruits, grapes and blueberries will be held at low temperatures for at least 17 days prior to entry into the US. The process will be done in producing countries – including Peru, Chile and Brazil – or at transshipment points such as Panama. South American fruit shipments to the US East Coast have traditionally been shipped to northern US ports, requiring longer delivery times by truck to reach consumers. Ocean delivery to Savannah means fruits will reach Southeastern markets faster, allowing fresher offerings for stores and longer shelf life for consumers. Besides the obvious benefits to consumers, shorter transit routes also provide cost savings for shippers and environmental benefits as diesel consumption is reduced. Going ahead what are some of GPA’s investment plans in the port infrastructure? In addition to the four Super Post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes the Port of Savannah commissioned last year, the GPA has purchased another four ship-to-shore cranes and 20 new rubber-tired gantry cranes. GPA’s current fleet stands at 25 ship-to-shore cranes and 116 RTGs – more than any other single-operator terminal in the US. The ship-to-shore cranes are due to arrive in 2015. Also aiding faster cargo movement is the Jimmy Deloach Parkway extension, which will provide a direct link between Interstate 95 and the Port of Savannah. The Georgia Department of Transportation has broken ground on the project and expects to complete the 3.1-mile, $72.8 million connector in May 2016. The infrastructure upgrade with the greatest impact, however, is the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The project will increase harbor depth from 42 feet to 47 feet. US Army Corps of Engineers studies show that Post-Panamax vessels more efficiently served by a deeper harbor in Savannah will lower shipping costs for containerized trade by $213 million a year over the next 50 years, for a total economic benefit of $10.65 billion during that span. Decreased costs per container will lower the bottom line for the more than 21,000 US businesses, and thousands of international businesses shipping via the Port of Savannah. Going forward, is GPA focusing more on its facility enhancement for refrigerated cargo, where Port of Savannah is number one because of its strategic location in addition to the best infrastructure already made available now? In conjunction with recent private investment in cold storage – bringing a half-million square feet of new warehouse space to the Savannah market – the GPA is adding additional refrigerated container racks. At present, the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal can accommodate 2,016 refrigerated containers at reefer rack plug-ins. However, we are currently constructing 20 new racks to bring the container rack slots to 2,496. Including our on-chassis storage, this will bring Savannah’s capacity to approximately 3,100 chilled containers at a time.
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