The Port of Savannah should matter to all Georgians, not the least of whom are the the 250,000 of us without jobs. 7% of all of Georgia’s economic activity, and $8 billion worth of goods that came to or was shipped from Atlanta went through either Savannah or Brunswick. 1/4 of Home Depot’s containerized imports arrive in Georgia at Savannah’s port. Georgia Ports Authority employs 1,000 people directly, but also accounts for more than 286,476 jobs statewide, $55.8 billion of dollars in revenue, nearly $15 billion in income. As other states invest millions in their port facilities up to date, a significant part of Georgia’s economic future rests on the leadership and salesmanship of two men: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The port of Savannah needs about 6 feet of sand and mud dredged off the bottom of roughly 30 miles of the Savannah River to accommodate newer, bigger container ships. A few of the new ships have docked, but need to wait for high tide to load or offload. The dredging project will cost about $600 million, with the federal government paying about 2/3 of the cost.
Deal’s experience as a Congressman and his ties with Republicans in the House of Representatives are undoubtedly helpful. He’s already bumped up the amount under discussion from a mere $600,000 to $70 million. Reed’s ties to the Obama administration have put him in a leadership position on the issue as well, and as part of the larger issue of getting Georgia’s economy going, Savannah’s port dredging project is more important than partisan politics. But don’t ever count politics out of any equation.
There has been speculation that Georgia may be “in play” in the presidential election -notably by my colleague and fellow front page poster Mark Rountree. And even if the voters aren’t in play, Democratic donors certainly are. The math is pretty simple: Georgia needs jobs and Savannah’s port dredging project will help bring us some. President Obama desperately needs some good economic news from somewhere -anywhere- in the US. So do voters. Whether he wants Georgians’ votes or donations, President Obama is going to have pony up a few more federal dollars if he wants to keep Georgia in play.