Georgia: 3PL Logistics Sweet Spot


Many elements make The Peach State appealing to site selection teams. But the seeds of its success are firmly planted in its logistics assets.

Ray Charles may have put Georgia on everyone's mind, but when it comes to manufacturing and distribution site selection, it is the state's ships, planes, trains, and trucks that keep Georgia top of mind.

"Georgia is so fortunate to have tremendous logistical advantages—combined with a central geographic location, highly skilled workforce, and business-friendly environment," said Chris Carr when he was named commissioner of Georgia's Department of Economic Development in 2013. "In the three years since Governor Nathan Deal took office, Georgia successfully attracted more than 75,000 new jobs and $14 billion in investment to the state. As the old saying goes: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"

While there may be nothing to fix, somehow the state still finds new ways to solidify and improve its position of logistics leadership.

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers and transportation companies in Georgia gain competitive efficiencies and strategic business advantages by operating in the transportation "super hub" of the Southeast. Locating operations at the crossroads of north-south and east-west travel in North America enables them to move products quickly and easily via air, road, rail, and sea to global markets in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Four of the top 10 warehouse providers in North America are headquartered in Georgia, and 90 percent of the top 25 global 3PLs maintain operations in the state. Tier 1 companies leverage Georgia's 4,700 miles of railway, 118,777 miles of top-ranked public highways, the world's busiest and most efficient airport, and two deepwater seaports to connect with customers.

This built-in logistics ecosystem fuels competitiveness throughout the state, and provides a solid foundation for sustainable growth. Businesses save time and money by seamlessly connecting airports and seaports with rail and roads, enabling companies to compress shipping and delivery cycles.

Progress at the Ports

Central to Georgia's role as a logistics leader are the activities of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA). The organization is committed to maintaining the state's competitive edge by developing leading-edge technology, marketing, and operations to move cargo faster. In addition, the GPA works to identify what must be done today to sustain growth, performance, and security tomorrow.

"Since 1945, Georgia's ports have served as magnets for international trade and investment, enriching the state's economy," says GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. "The Georgia Ports Authority is dedicated to providing customers with the most efficient, productive port facilities in the nation, and to creating jobs and business opportunities to benefit more than 9.1 million Georgians."

Gateways to the World

Georgia's deepwater ports in Savannah and Brunswick—together with inland barge operations in Bainbridge and Columbus—are the state's gateways to the world. "Ports are the critical conduits through which raw materials and finished products flow to and from destinations around the globe," Foltz says.

As a quasi-state agency, GPA activities are governed by a 13-member board of directors appointed by the governor to serve staggered four-year terms. As chief executive, Foltz implements policy directives, administrative duties, and managerial controls.

One of the state's largest public employers, the GPA directly employs nearly 1,000 trained logistics professionals. GPA operations—together with private sector, port-related operations—account for some 352,000 jobs statewide, $66.9 billion in sales, and income exceeding $18.5 billion annually.

Georgia's port operations include:

  • The Port of Savannah.Two modern, deepwater terminals—Garden City Terminal and Ocean Terminal—comprise the Port of Savannah. Together, these facilities exemplify the GPA's exacting efficiency and productivity standards.

    At 1,200 acres, the Garden City Terminal is the nation's largest container facility. Because the entire terminal is owner-operated, the port's operations are streamlined to serve shippers and carriers.

    At some other ports, for example, truckers must check in to one shipping line's leased terminal to drop off an export box, then repeat that check-in process at another line's terminal to pick up an import box. At Garden City Terminal, however, truckers check in once, navigate to drop-off and pick-up points, and enjoy much quicker turn times.

    By the same token, Garden City features nearly 10,000 feet of berth space that is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Ships don't have to wait on a limited number of berths leased to a specific company. As a result, both maritime and landside port users can get cargo moving more quickly and efficiently.

    Savannah's dedicated breakbulk and roll-on/roll-off facility, Ocean Terminal, covers 208 acres and provides customers with more than 1.3 million square feet of covered, versatile storage.

  • The Port of Brunswick.Composed of three GPA-owned deepwater terminals, the Port of Brunswick is one of the fastest-growing auto and heavy machinery ports in North America. More than 20 major auto manufacturers, supported by five auto processors, use the Colonel's Island Terminal, which is also home to the Southeast's fastest-growing bulk export/import operation. Agri-products from Georgia and the U.S. grain belt, as well as import products, flow smoothly across the Colonel's Island docks.

    The Port of Brunswick's Mayor's Point Terminal facilitates exporting Georgia's valuable forest products, while Marine Port Terminal specializes in handling breakbulk and bulk commodities.

  • Port Bainbridge and Port Columbus. Georgia's inland terminal operations provide a strategic advantage for bulk commodities moving to and from the southeastern United States.

An important facet of the GPA's success is Georgia's geographical advantage. "The Port of Savannah's location makes it a hub for the export of American-made products from cities such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Louisville, and Charlotte," explains Foltz.

Another location-related advantage: room to grow. "While Georgia's ports currently handle about three million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) annually, the GPA's strategic plans will allow us to handle 6.5 million TEUs without increasing our physical footprint on terminal," Foltz says. "Off terminal, a wealth of industrial real estate near the port and major interstates is available for development."

Further competitive assets include interstate access, two Class I rail lines, and the largest portfolio of containership services in the U.S. Southeast. Immediate access from the Port of Savannah to I-16 heading east-west, and I-95 stretching north-south, means motor carriers can reach key cities and manufacturing points throughout the U.S. Southeast and Midwest within a one- to two-day drive.

Thanks to on-terminal rail yards, cargo shipped by rail is not limited by highway weight restrictions. Service from both Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation delivers more choices for reaching the hinterlands.

With 5.4 million people in the Metro Atlanta area, and a state population of 9.9 million, Georgia is more than a formidable singular market. Its transportation infrastructure makes it a springboard to reach the entire U.S. Southeast.

Ship to Rail

Rail connectivity from the Port of Savannah means cargo owners enjoy daily service to every major destination east of the Mississippi. GPA's Network Georgia provides the fastest rail connections of any East Coast port to Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas, as well as overnight service to Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Charleston.

"The Port of Savannah is 100 miles closer to Atlanta than any other port," Foltz notes. "This is significant because Atlanta serves as a major hub for rail and truck traffic."

As the only East Coast port featuring two Class I rail providers on a single terminal, Savannah offers two-day service to Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala.; Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, Fla.; and Memphis and Nashville, Tenn. Norfolk Southern and CSX service at the Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal averages 18 inbound and 18 outbound trains weekly, delivering more choices to reach inland markets.

Prime Logistics Location. Taking full advantage of its geographic location at the crossroads of north-south and east-west travel in North America, Georgia provides shippers easy access to a wealth of major interstates, rail networks, airports, and sea ports. Abundant warehousing space rounds out the offerings, which add up to a convenient and efficient logistics sector.

"Our two on-terminal intermodal facilities also mean shippers don't have to haul their goods to remote rail yards, and can get cargo to DCs or other destinations more quickly," Foltz says. "What's more, fewer truck miles mean shorter transit times, resulting in improved speed to market and lower storage costs."

Superior infrastructure at the GPA is matched by more flexible service. "In the past, many shippers equated intermodal directly to rail. But today, the GPA focuses on how intermodal moves fit into the port's overall efficiency," says Griff Lynch, the GPA's chief operating officer. "The current view encompasses the whole process from ship to destination, and beyond. It includes establishing routes before a container is even shipped."

The 30 employees who coordinate the movement of cargo to and from GPA rail yards are now also part of a larger and more flexible group that includes all of operations. Developed over the past few years, this operations strategy allows the GPA to absorb increased volume in different sections of the terminal, with the flexibility to move skilled workers to where they are most required at the time.

"Savannah serves as the Southeast's hub for intermodal moves," says John Trent, the GPA's senior director of strategic operations and safety. "The port is working with its two Class I railroads to strengthen its position, and make Georgia the dominant hub for East Coast rail traffic."

An inland port agreement signed by the governor, the GPA, and rail access provider Cordele Intermodal Services extends the international reach of businesses in Southeast Georgia and adjacent regions of Florida and Alabama by ensuring a direct 200-mile rail route to and from GPA's Garden City Terminal in Savannah.

The Port of Savannah forms a distribution center hub, with more than four million square feet of warehouse space available. "Attracting DCs to the port will generate vessel calls to serve those facilities," says Foltz. "In turn, those calls guarantee more empty container deliveries to support the region's export market."

The Port of Savannah has garnered keen interest among many national 3PLs, prompting them to establish facilities to help serve shippers more efficiently.

"Adding to that momentum was a change in the business model of large retailers," says Stacy Watson, the GPA's general manager of economic and industrial development. "To concentrate on their core business, many big-box retailers outsourced logistics operations."

As big-box retailers locate distribution centers in Georgia, they bring their 3PLs with them. This development created a boom in Savannah's 3PL market, and gave the GPA access to shippers served by 3PLs in other cities.

A key factor in 3PLs selecting the Port of Savannah is the volume of ocean shipping services—which gives shippers more solutions to meet their logistics needs.

"Georgia's growth and prosperity are inextricably linked to the success of its ports, and to the state's ability to complement them with the best surface logistics network in the nation."—Jay Shaw, Chairman, State Transportation Board

"Savannah has more weekly container services than any other port on the East Coast except for New York," says Chris Logan, the GPA's senior director for trade development. "The number of ocean services offers 3PL customers more choices for reaching world markets."

The Georgia Ports Authority is also making significant investments in terminal improvements to increase capacity and boost efficiency—further establishing Georgia as the gateway for trade to the southeast United States. Among the GPA's growth initiatives:

New cranes. Four new ship-to-shore cranes at the Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal bring the number of electric-powered container cranes to 27—the most at any single terminal in the United States. "These new super post-Panamax cranes further enhance the terminal's cargo handling efficiency," says Foltz.

The new cranes help prepare Savannah to better accommodate larger container vessels, expected to increase in number after the expanded Panama Canal opens in 2015.

New roads. Also aiding faster cargo movement is the Jimmy Deloach Parkway extension, which will provide a direct link between Interstate 95 and the Port of Savannah. The Georgia Department of Transportation has broken ground on the project, and expects to complete the 3.1-mile, $72.8-million connector in May 2016. The project will cut 11 minutes from the drive time for vehicles traveling State Road 21 and the Jimmy Deloach Connector.

"The Deloach Connector illustrates the unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration between Governor Deal, the Transportation and Ports Authority boards, and the Georgia Department of Transportation," says State Transportation Board Chairman Jay Shaw. "Georgia's growth and prosperity are inextricably linked to the success of its ports, and to the state's ability to complement them with the best surface logistics network in the nation."

A recently completed overpass on Georgia Highway 307—the main truck route into Garden City Terminal—will also provide better connections for surface transport. The overpass is one of the final steps in a cargo beltway linking the Port of Savannah to the Southeast by way of interstates I-16 and I-95.

The overpass will expedite traffic into the GPA's Garden City Terminal, which handles nearly 8,000 truck moves a day. Through its road and rail connections, the Port of Savannah serves 18 major retail distribution centers, encompassing more than 15 million square feet of space.

"This $22.5-million investment shows the state's commitment to improved cargo movement beyond the terminal gates," Foltz says.

Rail improvements. The Highway 307 overpass complements a $6.5-million six-track rail yard expansion. Norfolk Southern, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the GPA worked in tandem on the overpass and rail expansion projects to boost efficiency for both truck and rail transport. The overpass routes trucks above the one previous rail line and the six expanded tracks at the Port of Savannah's Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility.

CSX Transportation has also made significant investments to improve efficiency at Garden City Terminal, including a $5-million track upgrade, which expedites container movement in and out of the facility.

"Combined with other recent improvements, this expansion will reduce Savannah-Atlanta round-trip rail transit by six hours," says Lynch. "The efficiency gains for each container will save money for port customers."

Deeper water. The infrastructure upgrade with the greatest impact, however, is the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which recently garnered full federal approval. The project will increase harbor depth from 42 feet to 47 feet.

Post-Panamax vessels more efficiently served by a deeper harbor in Savannah will lower shipping costs for containerized trade by $213 million per year over the next 50 years, for a total economic benefit of $10.7 billion during that span, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studies. Reduced costs per container will lower the bottom line for the more than 21,000 U.S. businesses, and thousands of international organizations, shipping via the Port of Savannah.

The Port of Savannah has already positioned itself as the busiest gateway for commerce to the Southeast, notes GPA Board Chairman Robert Jepson.

"Georgia's ports have become leaders because their superb landside infrastructure, geographic proximity to high demographic density, and overall service efficiency enables cargo to move to inland destinations more quickly and cost effectively than other ports through our direct road and rail connections," Jepson says. "The last remaining piece of the logistical puzzle that must be improved is deeper water. With a deeper harbor, the Port of Savannah will improve its service times for the larger and more heavily laden vessels that are the future of global trade."

Infrastructure Rules

Every year, it seems, Georgia takes another giant leap in its quest for logistics leadership. But the starting blocks remain its infrastructure and location.

"Georgia has been rated the best state for doing business, and a lot of that has to do with its supply chain and logistics infrastructure," says Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, the state's leading resource for fueling logistics sector growth and global competitiveness.

Siplon and his team are charged with helping Georgia maintain and enhance its dominance in the logistics marketplace. The Georgia Department of Economic Development operates six Centers of Innovation focused on strategic industries: aerospace, agribusiness, energy, life sciences and IT, logistics, and manufacturing. In addition to running the logistics center, Siplon also serves as program director for the entire team.

Under Siplon's leadership, the Center of Innovation for Logistics created and now hosts the annual Georgia Logistics Summit, the only industry-driven, state-led event of its kind and size in the nation. The Center also produces multiple publications, including a detailed industry report and a monthly Logistics Market Snapshot that serves as a valuable resource for professionals around the world.

The Center directly helps companies overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities related to freight movement. "We provide focused technical expertise, industry-specific data, connections to state resources, and an extensive cross-sector industry network," Siplon explains.

Siplon and his team are mindful that Georgia's inherent location and infrastructure advantages are not enough to ensure the state remains the leader of the pack in the digital age.

"Consumers are changing the way they buy products, and the timeline in which they demand delivery," Siplon says. "The Centers of Innovation focus on how industries are evolving, and how businesses must adapt.

"E-commerce is flourishing in Georgia," he adds, citing a Home Depot fulfillment center in the Atlanta suburb of Locust Grove, and an Academy Sports + Outdoors fulfillment center in Macon. "We're having exciting discussions about leveraging Georgia as an e-commerce fulfillment springboard."

That phenomenon requires companies to constantly question their strategies. "Businesses analyze how they can keep up with shifting paradigms," Siplon says. "Many markets are changing, and the Centers of Innovation help companies find ways to adapt so they can connect, compete, and grow."