Rising Tide

GaBiz Editor in Chief talks about the state’s ever-expanding coastal infrastructure and its role in fueling economic growth with Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch.


Georgia’s business boom shows no sign of slowing down, evidenced by the recent announcement that Hyundai plans to bring 8,100 jobs to southeastern Georgia with a $5.54 billion electronic vehicle plant—the largest such investment to date. In fact, the Georgia Ports Authority moved an all-time high 519,390 twenty-foot equivalent container units in May. The state’s smart, efficient infrastructure is a major draw for companies looking to expand here, due in part to the performance and capacity of our two deepwater ports. Here, we talk with Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch about why the coastal facilities are vital.

In the face of global supply chain challenges, how has GPA kept things moving while others haven’t been able to keep up with demand?
An important aspect that sets GPA apart is our willingness to look beyond our terminal gates to find innovative solutions. The recent, dramatic shift in consumer spending away from services and towards goods moving through U.S. ports challenged even GPA. However, because the Ports Authority acts as owner-operator in Savannah, GPA has the flexibility to add capacity quickly.

Key to our container handling success is establishing six pop-up container yards, which act as a supply chain relief valve. The inland yards allow GPA to move containers off the marine port to ease the flow of cargo across the terminal. GPA also expedited several projects originally expected years into the future, which will grow berth capacity and container yard space by 25 percent at the nation’s third-busiest container gateway. Savannah has the ability to scale up to meet demand, because it features the largest single terminal in North America at 1,345 acres.

At the Port of Brunswick, GPA has a $150 million development plan for Colonel’s Island Terminal. Projects will add a fourth berth for Roll-on/Roll-off vehicle-carrying ships and raise auto processing capacity from 1.2 million to 1.4 million vehicles. The expansions are expected to come online in 2023 and 2024. Already the nation’s second-busiest Ro/Ro port behind only Baltimore, factory announcements in Georgia for automakers Hyundai and Rivian are expected to propel the Port of Brunswick into the number one spot by 2026.

How do the ports help create jobs in Georgia?                                     According to an economic impact study conducted by the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, port activity in Georgia supports half a million full- and part-time jobs across the state, from those who work directly in logistics or factories that rely on the ports to ancillary industries and services that depend on the ripple effect from direct employment payrolls.

GPA has added more than 100 jobs to better handle the influx of cargo, so that we are now 1,600 strong. We’ve also broadened our YES+ program, in which we are hiring career-ready recent high school graduates to become GPA’s workforce of the future in fields ranging from equipment operators to the administrative side of our operation.

This spring marked the completion of the big deepening project for the Port of Savannah. What’s next?                                                                             With the deeper water, the big ships calling on Savannah can transit the river with heavier loads and greater scheduling flexibility. GPA is now focused on landside improvements such as enhancing our berth capacity and container yard space to ensure the free flow of cargo across our terminals. The Georgia Ports Authority Board has approved a series of major expansions that will increase Savannah’s annual container capacity by 60 percent to 9.5 million TEUs by 2025. Over the next 12 years, the GPA plans to invest $4.5 billion in infrastructure.

What role does GPA play in enticing global power players to invest in Georgia?                                                                                                                           We have a really outstanding team in our Trade Development office that works with existing and potential customers to bring more business to our state. The Georgia Ports Authority works in tandem with the Georgia Department of Economic Development and with development authorities across the state to help potential new employers find locations that optimize the Peach State’s road and rail connections to GPA’s global ocean carrier network. Our deepwater ports’ existence as a state asset, combined with Georgia’s team approach in recruiting prospects, is a powerful draw for exciting new developments such as those announced by Hyundai and Rivian.

How important is cooperation with other state players such as Governor Kemp’s office, the airports, and Georgia Department of Economic Development in driving economic growth?                                        Collaboration is fundamental and it’s second nature to our state leadership, local economic developers, and private industries. Georgia stands apart in this regard. We are all pulling in the same direction, providing a business-friendly climate and an enthusiasm to help companies realize their vision.

Our Trade Development office is an active partner in the process, whether a prospect comes to us directly, through GDEcD or a local development office. It’s a win-win situation. Attracting a new or expanding industry to the state means new jobs for Georgians and additional business through our ports. It’s in everyone’s best interest to be good partners in the effort to recruit new employers.