SunTrust Global Trade Forum: Cordele Inland Port Provides Another Boost for Area

Laurel Griffith

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The first annual Global Trade Forum, sponsored by SunTrust Bank, South Georgia, brought regional business leaders together to participate in a discussion of global trade and issues related to the deepening of Port Savannah. James McCurry, Director of Administration, Georgia Ports Authority and forum panelist stressed the significance of the up-coming project.

“Port Savannah is the largest and busiest single container terminal in the United States. By volume, in term of containers, Savannah is the fourth busiest port in the U.S.”

McCurry said at this time larger container vessels can come into the port on a “constrained basis”, but their arrival and departure is based on the tide cycle. After the deepening project is completed these larger ships will have more efficient access to the port. McCurry emphasized the need to accommodate larger ships becomes essential after the completion of the Panama Canal expansion project in 2014.

At this time about two-thirds of our services to Asia come through the Panama Canal. After completion of the canal expansion project, all these ships will come through the Panama Canal.  McCurry added, “We are either going to have the larger ships and serve them more efficiently, or we’re going to lose them completely.”

According to McCurry, Georgia ports handle a uniquely balanced export-import ratio, due to the proximity of consumption areas, the abundance of products that the state produces and the connectivity of the area’s infrastructure. “We’ve been the beneficiaries of some of the changing market dynamics. If we are going to continue to do that, we are going to have to invest in our infrastructure; in particular in the deepening of the harbor in Savannah. This is our big opportunity and question mark for the future.”
Bruce C. Drennan, Executive Director of Cordele Crisp Industrial Development Council and forum panelist, discussed the vision and the work behind Cordele’s inland port.

“We’ve been working on this project over nine years,” explained Brennan.  “The port was really just a strategic planning idea that began early in 2002. We are just a small community of 25,000 people but we do have strengths related to our location. We wanted to draw on these strengths and improve the job and growth opportunities in our community.”

Drennan said the catalyst for Cordele’s inland port is the Heart of Georgia Railroad, which is a direct, short-line connection to the Port of Savannah. He adds that no other communities have this connection.
“We found we could bring containers from Savannah to Cordele about fifty percent cheaper by rail than you could by truck. This is really about cost savings for the shipper and for the receiver.”

Brennan said the result has been an efficiency that brings economic savings to the firms and jobs and growth to the area. “Whether you ship five containers a year or five thousand containers a year, you realize a cost savings.”

Brennan emphasized this is a true regional project, and the economic impact is not limited to Crisp County. “One thing we’re doing is establishing a foreign trade zone in Cordele. Ultimately we hope to have a custom’s office here and the benefits will be felt across the region. We feel we will provide an expansion of the Port of Savannah that will benefit people across the region when they ship and receive goods.”

As the Global Trade Forum came to a close, panelists were asked to look to the future. What would exports look like in years to come?

McCurry responded, “I think the demand for food and raw materials around the world will not shrink. Countries like China that have landmass, don’t have the natural resources that they need. We’re the largest poultry producing state and the largest poultry exporting state in the country, and because of poultry, we’re the largest refrigerated port in the country. Agriculture and forest products, minerals and foodstuffs will be key. Kalon clay out of central Georgia has long been a central export for the state. European countries are importing wood pellets to use as fuel. India, Brazil and other countries in Latin American have figured prominently in our growth and will continue to be important. Everything you produce in this part of the state is in demand in other parts of the world.”

About Laurel Griffith

Laurel Griffith is a freelance writer. Before moving to Albany, she published a magazine for six years in Dothan, AL.