Sandy Springs may seem a long way from Savannah, but the coastal city’s port plays a big role in business in the Perimeter, transportation experts told members of the Perimeter Business Association recently.
“We are a gateway to the entire Southeast, but Atlanta is a major component of our growth. It’s very important that we rely on each other,” Griff Lynch, chief operating officer of the Georgia Ports Authority, said during a panel discussion hosted by the PBA at Villa Christina on Sept. 20.
Chuck Altimari, vice president of UPS, which is headquartered in Sandy Springs, and a board member of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, told the business group that it was important to look at transportation from a statewide perspective. Both the port and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport have a major affect on Perimeter businesses, he said.
He said the proximity of Atlanta’s airport was a big factor in UPS’ decision to locate its corporate headquarters in the Perimeter. That access to direct flights is a big boost for the area’s economic development efforts, he said.
The discussion featured Lynch, Altimari and Louis Miller, general aviation manager for the Atlanta airport.
Lynch said the Georgia Ports Authority directly employs about 1,000 people. But according to a study from the University of Georgia, the movement of the cargo that comes through the ports creates about 350,000 jobs statewide, he said.
Altimari, who moderated the discussion, said the next big transportation priority for the PBA and the PCIDs is improving the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange. He asked the other panelists how traffic around the Perimeter affects them.
Miller said better traffic flow throughout the metro region is important for the airport to run smoothly.
“We want them to be able to get to the airport as quickly as possible,” Miller said. “If they’re slowed down coming into or coming out, it impacts traffic around the airport.”
Lynch said businesses want to know that their cargo can move quickly to its destination once it is unloaded in Savannah.
“If cargo can’t move fluidly, they’re not going to come,” Lynch said.
Efforts are underway to deepen the port of Savannah.
According to the Georgia Ports Authority, deepening the Savannah River to 47 feet would enable the port to more efficiently serve the larger vessels expected in greater numbers after a planned expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015. Accommodating larger vessels would also lower shipping costs, according to the Ports Authority.
“This project is critically important to the state of Georgia, Southeast region and nation, and it would support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue,” U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) said in a statement.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also has been a strong supporter of the harbor expansion.
“I am pleased to join Gov. Nathan Deal, Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Congressman Jack Kingston to continue advocating strongly for the deepening of the Port of Savannah right away, which along with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, helps fuel Georgia’s economic health, and allows our region and state to remain globally competitive,” Reed said in a press release.