SunTrust Global Trade Forum: How Global Trade & Strategic Ports Bring Economic Gain to Georgia

Laurel Griffith

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

“It is our intention and purpose to bring advice, ideas and thoughts to those clients we serve in those communities in which we reside. We want to lighten the way to financial wellbeing and prosperity.”

With these words Kevin Blair, President of SunTrust Bank, Georgia Region, convened the first annual Global Trade Forum, which was held yesterday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Albany. A diverse group of business leaders from across South Georgia came to hear expert panelists address topics relating to Georgia ports and globalization. 

Why are they interested? The latest economic study, commissioned by Governor Nathan Deal and produced by Terry College of Business, University of Georgia, reports the ports are responsible for 352,146 full and part time jobs in Georgia, which is 8.3% of the state’s total employment.

Eric Bretan, Director of the Capital Markets Group for SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, and forum panelist, discussed the changes that have taken place in world production and then looked forward to the future. “In 1995, six countries, ten percent of the world’s population, were responsible for two-thirds of total GDP output.” 

In only fifteen years the statistics show significant change. By 2011, developing countries were responsible for fifty percent of global GDP. Bretan anticipates the trend will continue and no matter what politicians may say, he believes this expansion is a positive thing. 

“You don’t want two-thirds of global GDP driven by six countries. At the end of the day, how many McDonalds can you put on I -75? You can’t put more. What you can do is put more McDonald’s in Shanghai. You can put more McDonalds in Hong Kong. Not only is it McDonald’s, it is selling products.”

Bretan said although agriculture holds a prominent place in Georgia’s economy, civilian aircraft parts are the state’s top export. Wood pulp holds the number two spot. Military jet engines, tractors, and agricultural products also make the top-ten list. 

Georgia’s top import is motor vehicles. Most of these come from Germany and South Korea. Bretan said shift of importance to Korean products is a sign of the change that is occurring in global trade. He predicted another shift in twenty years when “we’ll see more motor vehicles produced by India and China.”

Bretan made the case for a multitude of trading partners. “Georgia’s top trading partner is China and right now their economy is red hot. But if we focus on just one country we are apt to have problems in the future.” He said he would like to see is a more level playing field, so in five years more countries will be represented in Georgia’s trade portfolio. “Hopefully as we expand the ports, we’ll have access to other countries as well.”

James McCurry, Director of Administration for the Georgia Ports Authority, said Port of Savannah and Port of Brunswick are positioned for efficiency and maximum service to customers.

“We have diversified our activities and we operate in a coordinated way so we aren’t stepping over ourselves. We are able to share our assets and we don’t compete with each other. ”

Strong organization, along with good decisions and planning, have helped to make Port of Savannah, the fourth largest, and second busiest port for export of containerized goods in the nation. The Port of Brunswick specializes in the handling of break-bulk, agri-bulk and RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) cargoes.

McCurry was pleased to report deepening of Port Savannah is about to begin. After fifteen years of discussion with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce, the necessary approvals have been given. He says the proposal is at the administrative level and the state is waiting on the Record of Decision. McCurry expects work to begin by the end of the year and the deepening project to be completed by 2016. 

When the deepening is completed, the bigger ships, which at this point are only allowed into the ports on a “constrained basis”, will have better access. 

McCurry believes Port of Savannah and Port of Brunswick are poised for growth. “We have the connectivity and infrastructure we need to be the beneficiary of changing market dynamics. As the U.S. economy improves, we are ready to grow. We feel we have a bright future.”

Look for part two of the Georgia Ports and their impact on Georgia in tomorrows feature - You’ll learn what the world wants from Georgia. You’ll hear from Bruce Drennan, Executive Director Cordele Crips Industrial Development Council, and get the answer to the question: How did Cordele become a link in global exports?

About Laurel Griffith

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