Logistics will be the focus of a regional summit hosted by the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Centers of Innovation on March 14 in Cartersville. The summit marks the first time the event, held for the past 10 years in Atlanta, will adopt more of a regional approach. The new Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County will be the center of attention at the day-long event.

Matt Markham, director of the Center of Innovation for Logistics, said the reason for holding the event at the Clarence Brown Center in Cartersville is simply to get the event out of Atlanta and spotlight one of the state’s newest and most important aspects of the logistics industry. The inland port opened in August of 2018 on a 42-acre site off U.S. 411 north of Chatsworth in a partnership with CSX Railroad. The state has a 388-mile line that connects the facility in Murray County with the Garden City Terminal at the Port of Savannah.

“Cartersville was a great location in terms of being central to the entire Northwest Georgia region,” Markham said. “We wanted to use this opportunity after a decade of success in Atlanta to look at ways we could extend those benefits and shine the spotlight on other parts of the state that have a significant impact on the logistics of Georgia.”

“Logistics is a huge issue, not just within Georgia, but the whole United States,” said Ken Wright, director of business and industry services at the Rome Floyd Chamber.

The new inland port has been well received by industry across the region, according to Markham. “They’re still building that customer base and getting a chance to grow. That is one of the things ports personnel will report on during the event,” Markham said. “They do have customers and they are moving freight. It is building into what will be a significant part of their strategy to reach into the Midwest and be able to serve those customers as well.”

“The inland port also promotes a regional concept by its very existence. This region works so well together and this port is one great indicator of that,” Markham said. “As we thought about building up the event and talking to folks in different parts of the region there has been a spirit of cooperation, and the port, while located in one part of the region, is a great benefit to other parts of the region as well, and really the entire state. It has been very well received.”

Markham said that manufacturers in Rome having the opportunity to drive a container to Murray County versus having to ship it all the way to Savannah saves a significant amount of time and fuel costs.

“One of the things we’ve heard a lot of from shippers is that they are having difficulties with finding companies that are able to ship their product sufficiently because of truck-driver shortages,” Markham said.

Wright said industry officials estimate there is a shortage of at least 80,000 truck drivers across the country, and estimates that within five years that shortage could go as high as 300,000.

“Moving product in and out is going to be critical, and it’s going to be more challenging to do it.” He said one of the big box companies just announced plans to start truckers at $80,000 with a guarantee of at least two days off per week.

One of the big drivers of that issue is that truck drivers are increasingly wanting to have that quality of life where they are home at night. Having to drive from Northwest Georgia all the way down to Savannah and back is really hard to do in one day. The option of making a short haul to Murray County and having the container loaded on a train is becoming a more and more attractive option.

Having the regional inland port is also cost effective in terms of not worrying about an empty load going in one direction or another from companies across Northwest Georgia to Savannah and back, known as dead-heading.

Wright explained that one of the biggest advantages of the inland port is that it will take between 40,000 and 50,000 truck shipments off the road every year.

“Northwest Georgia has a lot of companies that are involved in importing and exporting, so that is going to take traffic off the road going through Atlanta. It saves wear and tear on the roads, not to mention the delays,” Wright said. “If we send a truck down to Savannah to deliver something, to fill a container and bring it back — you can’t do it in the same day because of the limitations on the driver’s time. That would require two different drivers. Now you can take something to the inland port and pick up a load and bring it back on the same day.”

The Centers of Innovation, according to Executive Director Steve Justice, started back in 2003 when Gov. Sonny Perdue and his One Georgia Commission came up with a series of recommendations to enhance economic development activity across the state. One of the things that came out of that was the creation of the Centers of Innovation to focus on key industries in the state to help them grow. The Aerospace Center was first, followed, not necessarily in order, by Energy, Information Technology, Logistics and Manufacturing.

“All companies, whatever size they are, particularly small and mid-sized companies, when they look to grow their business they run into challenges. We work with them to identify those challenges and to bring the right set of resources to them.” Justice said. The Centers of Innovation focus solely on companies that are already in existence across the state.

“The Logistics Center saw a need to bring people together to talk about their challenges and opportunities so the director at that time, Page Siplon, pulled that together, and it started with a rather modest group and it grew from there,” Justice said. “Matt and his team have done a fantastic job of pulling this thing together.”

The summit will feature a presentation from Pat Wilson, the commissioner of the Department of Economic Development, an update on logistics-related issues from Jeff Lewis of Cartersville, a member of the GDOT Board of Directors, followed by a virtual tour of the Appalachian Regional Port with Wesley Barrell. A panel discussion will feature representatives from the Georgia Ports Authority, CSX Railroad, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, Tranco Logistics and others. Markham said the virtual tour of the inland port would be “the next best thing to actually walking through it.”

Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. on March 14 and the program is expected to be over by 2:30 p.m. People can register for the summit online in advance at www.galogisticssummit.com.