Coastal ports benefit from auto sales boon

From the The Brunswick News

Automobile sales continue to serve as an enormous boon for Coastal Georgia, and in particular the Port of Brunswick.

The trend continued for the first half of the 2013-2014 fiscal year for the Georgia Ports Authority, which experienced an 8 percent growth in tonnage. That included a spike in auto and machinery traffic, the GPA announced Monday.

The authority has topped the number of cars and tractors at Brunswick's Colonel's Island and Savannah's Ocean terminals from the previous year by nearly 22,000 since the fiscal year began July 1.

Brunswick alone experienced a 5 percent increase over the first six months of the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

"Strong volumes in container traffic, bulk cargo and auto and machinery units for the month of December contributed to this successful mid-year report," GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz said.

GPA Board Chairman Robert Jepson added the marked growth shows off the importance of Georgia's deepwater ports to international commerce.

Skip Mounts, dean of College of Coastal Georgia's School of Business and Public Affairs, says the local economy benefits even more. The port diversifies Glynn's economy, building an immunity to the type of recession that struck Coastal Georgia five years ago.

"The larger, the more stable the port is, the less it lends itself to the business cycle," he said.

In a presentation to area leadership at the University of Georgia's annual Economic Outlook luncheon earlier this month, Don Mathews, professor of economics at College of Coastal Georgia, predicted that based on its growth in auto imports and exports, as well as its success in agri-bulk, the Port of Brunswick would lead the way in economic recovery in Glynn and its surrounding counties this year.

He said Monday that recovery would move along more quickly with the promised investment in the Port of Brunswick's infrastructure.

The ports authority has said it will contribute $3 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the harbor at the Brunswick port. Another $3 million would be contributed by the corps.

A deeper channel, which has been losing depth to natural forces, would allow for larger ships and more commerce at what is already one the busiest areas in the country for auto imports and exports, Mathews said.

"This sort of investment, though the effects may not jump out of the port's cargo handling numbers, is huge," Mathews said. "For shipping firms, cargo handling firms and transportation firms, the decision to conduct business at a port requires an enormous capital investment. Those firms will only want to make those sorts of commitments in ports that invest themselves to improve their own capacity and capability.

"Simply put, a port is selling a product in a very competitive market. A port that doesn't invest in making its product better is going to lose business."

Georgia Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, said based on recent conversations he had with Gov. Nathan Deal, he has confidence the Brunswick harbor will see the maintenance it needs soon.

He said the federal government also has a role to play in the issue.

"If this harbor is not maintained, they're going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg," Atwood said. "We're going to do the best on our level to keep the port dredged. When you're the No. 2 (roll on-roll off) port in the U.S., that's nothing to sneeze at. You've got to do the maintenance that's necessary to keep that viable, not only for our citizens but for the country."

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Release Date: 1/28/2014
Source: The Brunswick News

By KELLY QUIMBY