By Walter C. Jones –
ATLANTA – The Georgia Ports Authority may develop facilities in neighboring states, outgoing chief Curtis Foltz said Wednesday.
Foltz, the executive director for the last seven years, told 1,700 trucking and shipping executives attending the Georgia Logistics Summit that his agency had identified six regions as candidates for so-called inland ports. If no one else develops them, the Ports Authority will take the lead.
Those are rail yards where containers of freight are transferred between trains and tractor-trailer trucks. The authority has been involved in the development of two inland ports in recent years, in Cordele that is already operating and in Chatsworth where construction is just beginning.
Discussions are underway with a third and a fourth facility, he said.
One would be in the Augusta area where a major shipper, a railroad and city officials are looking for a site and designs to minimize congestion on local roads. He offered no timeline for development.
Another could be out of state.
“Cordele was much more successful than we thought. Cordele kind of woke up every county in Georgia now wanting one of these,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Locations are based on commercial demand, rail service and local economic-development potential. Reducing truck traffic is the key consideration in each.
“As the supply chain jerks, you’ll see us reach out farther,” he said. “To me, it makes this network of inland facilities more important. … We don’t see ourselves limited in building these in Georgia. We truly see it extending beyond Georgia if it makes sense for the port of Georgia.”
Jannine Miller, director of the state’s Center of Innovation for Logistics, said freight transport demands don’t follow state boundaries anyway and that having inland ports beyond Georgia’s borders could tap additional shipping customers for the port.
“Inland ports can create that access into the Midwest, even more so with the Panama Canal expansion and the (Savannah River) deepening,” she said.
Each of the inland ports will be designed different from the others to reflect the local market and geography.
Potential sites are in East Tennessee and Alabama. The Ports Authority has been approached about developing a site in Florida, but Foltz said that may not have enough potential.
Overall, going beyond the state line isn’t the goal. “That’s not a priority of ours. But all I tell people is we’re not limited by it,” he said.
As a state authority rather than an agency of state government, the Ports Authority is essentially a business owned by the state. It can own property, charge for its services and operate anywhere like any other business.
“Where we’re looking at sites along the borders of Georgia, if it makes sense to move it 30 miles, 50 miles and that happens to be across the border in another state but it’s going to positively attract economic development to the region, that’s what we do,” he said.
He also said there is significant interest in developing additional warehouse space closer to the Port of Savannah. He said he’s seen more commercial real-estate activity in the last eight months than in the last 12 years.
One industry report shows 60 companies nationwide are seeking 1 million square feet of warehouse space each this year.