Port of Savannah enjoys record fiscal year despite pandemic disruptions

Port of Savannah

ATLANTA – The Port of Savannah has become the first container port in the Southeast or on the Gulf Coast to move more than 5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in one year.

The port handled 5.3 million TEUs during fiscal 2021, which ended June 30, a 20% increase over the previous year, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) reported Monday.

The record came during a difficult year that saw major disruptions to supply chains around the globe.

“GPA leadership, our employees and our partners across the logistics community put in a tremendous effort to make this milestone possible,” said Joel Wooten, incoming chairman of the ports authority’s board.

“Growing our business by 20 percent in a single year is an amazing accomplishment and secures Savannah’s position as the fastest growing gateway in the nation over the past 10 years.”

Part of the reason for the Port of Savannah’s rapid growth in container traffic is that the authority added 210,000 TEUs of container capacity during fiscal 2021 by expanding container handling space and adding equipment at the port’s Ocean Terminal.

The port also saw a 14% increase in rail volumes at Savannah’s Garden City Terminal and a 26% increase in cargo lifts at the Appalachian Inland Port, a facility the ports authority opened in Northwest Georgia in 2017 primarily to bring exports by rail to Savannah.

Fiscal 2021 also was marked by progress on the multi-year deepening of Savannah Harbor, a $1 billion project now 90% complete and due to be completed in December. Another project expected to open this winter is the $220 million Mason Mega Rail, two sets of nine working tracks that will raise rail capacity at the Port of Savannah to 2 million TEUs per year.

“As port users continue to route additional cargo to Georgia, we are bullish on the future,” said Griff Lynch, the authority’s executive director. “We have an abundance of near-port property available for development, and GPA is right now adding millions of TEUs of additional capacity in Savannah.”

The ports authority’s trade in autos and heavy machinery also saw significant growth during the last fiscal year. Roll-on/Roll-off cargo reached 703,528 units, with the Port of Brunswick alone handling more than 685,000 units of vehicles and heavy machinery. Total Ro/Ro volume grew by 18% over fiscal 2020.

Cloud computing being added to Georgia Career Pathways program

ATLANTA – Georgia high schools soon will be offering a new career pathway aimed at filling the growing number of technology jobs in the Peach State.

The state Board of Education has approved State School Superintendent Richard Woods’ recommendation to launch a career pathway in cloud computing. The pathway will include three courses: Introduction to Software Technology, Computer Science Principles and Cloud Computing.

The Georgia Department of Education began the Career Pathways program in 2013 as a way to improve Georgia’s high school graduation rate.

Starting in ninth grade, students choose among a variety of “career clusters” they wish to pursue throughout high school. Each cluster contains a series of more specific “pathways” designed to prepare students for post- secondary options including a four-year college, two-year technical college or a certificate program qualifying them for a job out of high school in a skilled trade.

“Our goal is that, when a student graduates from high school in the state of Georgia, they will be prepared for their next step,” Woods said Monday. “This cloud computing pathway is an example of the opportunities available in Georgia schools for students to gain skills that will get them ready for the future.”

Cloud computing is in high demand in Georgia, with more than 4,000 related job openings available.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) reached out to the education department with a proposed pathway that would prepare students for entry-level jobs in cloud computing. It’s part of a broader initiative that includes courses at the technical college level.

The high school courses were developed with feedback from AWS, Google Cloud, NCR, Accenture, Microsoft and other tech companies.

After completing the high school pathway, students will be ready to continue their studies in the program offered through the Technical College System of Georgia.

State commission awards six licenses to grow marijuana, manufacture cannabis oil

Marijuana for medicinal purposes must be grown indoors in Georgia under close supervision.

ATLANTA – The state commission in charge of Georgia’s medical marijuana program has announced its intent to award six licenses to companies to grow the leaf crop and convert it into low-THC cannabis oil.

Two so-called “Class 1” licenses will allow the licensees to grow marijuana under close supervision in up to 100,000 square feet of growing space. Four “Class 2” licensees will limit recipients to not more than 50,000 square feet.

“It’s a great day for Georgians who need access to low-THC oil and their families who have advocated a quality of life for their loved ones,” Dr. Christopher Edwards, chairman of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission and principal surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute, said Saturday after the commission’s board met in Walker County.

The announcement of winning licensees was long in coming. While the General Assembly first legalized cannabis oil for the treatment of certain diseases in 2015, it wasn’t until 2019 that lawmakers passed a bill giving patients a legal means of obtaining the drug inside Georgia.

The legislation created the state commission to oversee the program, but it got off to a slow start. Members of the commission weren’t appointed until November 2019, four months after the law took effect, and it took another year to release a request for proposals from interested companies.

Sixty-nine businesses submitted competitive bids for the six licenses.

The businesses chosen to receive Class 1 licenses are Florida-based Trulieve GA Inc. and Botanical Sciences LLC.

“This will expand our Southeast operations hub to our neighboring state, and we are excited to bring the benefits of Trulieve cannabis products to Georgia patients,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve.

“As the largest cannabis company in Florida, built on providing the broadest patient access to medical marijuana in the state, we feel well-positioned to approach the Georgia market with the same commitment to quality products, patient access, and positive customer experience.”

Class 2 licenses will go to FFD GA Holdings, TheraTrue Georgia, Natures GA and Treevana Remedy.

Under the 2019 legislation, licensees will be limited to producing low-THC cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets marijuana users high.

The drug will be sold at licensed dispensaries or specially licensed pharmacies to patients suffering from a range of diseases including cancer, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease and sickle-cell anemia. 

Patients enrolled in a registry overseen by the state Department of Public Health must have a doctor’s prescription.

“Because of the dedication and hard work of the commission, we have been able to stay focused on getting the work done while always keeping patients’ needs as a top priority,” said Danielle Benson, the commission’s vice chair.

“This is a big step in the right direction, and the announcement of the six companies is an indication that help is on the way for Georgians.”

Georgia House Republicans elect Matt Hatchett majority whip

Georgia Rep. Matt Hatchett

ATLANTA – Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives Friday elected Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, to serve as majority whip.

Hatchett, an ally of House Speaker David Ralston, defeated Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, during a meeting of the House Republican Caucus in Jekyll Island. The vote totals from the closed-door session were not released.

“Matt Hatchett is a proven leader who has earned the trust of the House Majority Caucus,” Ralston said after Friday’s vote. “He has fought time and again for our priorities and principles both on the campaign trail and in the well of the Georgia House.”

Hatchett was elected to the House in 2010, succeeding longtime Democratic Rep. DuBose Porter, who left the General Assembly that year in an unsuccessful bid for governor.

Hatchett now succeeds Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, in the whip’s post. Kelley stepped down from leadership earlier this month to focus on a misdemeanor indictment related to a 2019 fatal hit-and-run crash.

Hatchett has resigned his position as chairman of the House Republican Caucus to take up his new role.

The majority whip’s job is to monitor legislation as it moves through both the Georgia House and Senate and work to line up votes among Republican House members for bills favored by the GOP Caucus.

Kemp launches effort to boost Georgia’s electric mobility industry

ATLANTA – Kia Motors America, which operates an assembly plant in Troup County producing 340,000 vehicles a year, recently dropped “Motors” from its name and is now known simply as “Kia America.”

The reason? The Korean automaker’s $25 billion plan to transition to electric vehicles soon will make “motors” obsolete.

That same trend is behind Gov. Brian Kemp’s announcement July 20 of a new statewide initiative aimed at strengthening Georgia’s status as a leader in the electric mobility industry.

The Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance (EMIA) will bring industry executives together with state leaders in government, education, utilities and nonprofits to look for ways to build up an industry that already has enjoyed some major successes.

“Georgia has a proven track record of investing early in the resources and infrastructure needed to connect it to the world and develop jobs of the future,” Kemp said. “The Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance will ensure that our state is positioned to continue leading the nation in the rapidly growing electric mobility industry.”

The EMIA won’t be starting its work from scratch. Georgia already boasts an impressive roster of recent international investments in electric mobility, including:

  • two SK Innovation electric vehicle battery manufacturing facilities in Jackson County, a nearly $2.6 billion investment by the South Korean company.
  • Dutch electric-vehicle charging company Heliox’s decision to base its North American headquarters in Atlanta.
  • Turkish electric-vehicle parts manufacturer TEKLAS, which plans to open its first North American plant in Gordon County.
  • German-owned GEDIA, a manufacturer of lightweight auto-body parts, which plans to open a plant in Whitfield County.
  • South Korea-based Duckyang, an electric mobility parts supplier, which will build two plants near Braselton.

But there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow in Georgia, said Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He cited projections showing electric vehicles in Georgia will balloon from just 7% of the market in 2025 to 30% by 2030, 58% by 2040 and 96% by 2050.

“Kia, SK and all these companies have to got to build out these vehicles,” Clark said. “We want Georgia to do it.”

Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said 55,000 jobs in Georgia are connected in some form to the auto industry. But many of those jobs involve manufacturing vehicles with traditional internal-combustion engines in an industry that is rapidly moving to electric vehicles.

“We’re probably going to see more change in the next 20 years in the auto industry than we’ve seen in the past 100 years,” Wilson said. “We’re focused on public policy that can help drive that transition.”

That’s where the EMIA comes in. Participants in the initiative will be divided into five committees that will set objectives in five categories: supply chain, infrastructure, workforce development, innovation and policy. The Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia will host committee meetings.

Wilson said the auto industry will be represented in the initiative by executives from Kia, Cox Automotive, Porsche – which has its North American headquarters in Hapeville – and Sandy Springs-based Mercedes-Benz USA.

He said the work also will involve executives from Georgia Power and the state’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs). The public sector will be represented by the state Department of Transportation and the Technical College System of Georgia, which will take part in discussions on workforce development.

“We’re looking at this as a true public-private partnership,” Wilson said.

What emerges from the initiative could come in the form of legislation for the General Assembly to consider, new policy initiatives or a combination of the two.

The state has been down the legislative road on electric mobility before. Lawmakers approved a tax credit for purchasers of electric vehicles back in the 1990s, when EVs were scarce, but eliminated it in 2015 as EV sales soared.

Georgia Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, the 2015 bill’s chief sponsor, said the tax credit was mainly generating sales for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.

“It wasn’t helping drive innovation,” he said. “It was just subsidizing a purchase.”

Clark agreed a tax credit to stimulate sales of EVs is no longer needed. But he said he expects some form of tax credit proposal could come out of the new initiative that will neither incentivize EV sales or offer the jobs tax credit Georgia traditionally has provided industries the state hopes to attract.

“It’s a new industry, a new economy, and our old jobs tax credit is not going to move the needle for these guys,” he said. “We’re going to have to listen to the industry.”

Clark envisions new tax breaks that would incentivize gasoline stations to install charging stations for EVs or encourage homebuilders to put chargers in new houses.

Martin said state government needs to be careful not to get ahead of the industry by pushing too aggressively for a transition to all electric vehicles.

“Innovation will get us there,” he said. “But in some places, there won’t be the electric grid or charging stations for that to happen.”

Wilson said it’s uncertain what solutions the committees will hit upon.

“We want to go into this with a blank slate and really listen to the professionals,” he said.

Wilson said the committees will meet this fall with a goal of making recommendations in time for the 2022 General Assembly session starting in January.