Savannah port

A worker unloads a breakbulk vessel at at the Georgia Ports Authority's Ocean Terminal, last summer in Savannah, Ga. Port activity in Georgia supports more than 439,000 jobs across the state.(Georgia Ports Authority/Stephen B. Morton)

Georgia is turning dirt all the way from Murray County in the mountains to Chatham County on the coast in an effort to mine additional business and jobs for the state.

Construction crews are laboring to get the Appalachian Regional Port — a rail shipping hub — north of Chatsworth on line while crews are continuing to dredge the Savannah River to give better access for mammoth new freight ships.

A report done by the Selig Center for Economic Growth in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia attributes more than 439,200 jobs statewide to the Georgia ports at Savannah and Brunswick. The ports support more than 25,800 jobs in the Northwest corner of the state, including 3,450 in Floyd County.

More than 5,600 jobs in Whitfield County and its massive floor covering industry are included in the report while Bartow County has more than 4,200 jobs tracked back to the ports and logistics support. Gordon County has 2,200-plus jobs that are rooted in the ports.

Rome-Floyd Chamber of Commerce President Al Hodge said that the jobs enumerated in the UGA report are tied almost exclusively to the manufacturing sector.

"Think anything logistics and supply chain," Hodge said. "That's one of the reasons the chamber is on record in support of the deepening of the port at Savannah and is also supportive of the new inland port in Murray County."

Many of Rome and Floyd County's international companies are heavy users of the port at Savannah, Hodge said — mentioning Pirelli and Suzuki in particular. He also said the Lowe's Regional Distribution Center in Shannon also moves a lot of freight to and from the port.

Jeffrey Humphreys, who wrote the report for the Georgia Ports Authority said, “deepwater ports are one of Georgia’s strongest economic engines, fostering the development of virtually every industry."

The shipping hub is being developed on a 42-acre site and will have direct CSX rail service over the almost 390 miles to the Garden City Port at Savannah.

Drew Roy, the director of intermodal operations for Scott Logistics in Rome said that long-haul trucking is becoming more and more expensive for companies, in large part, due to new federal electronic logging requirements for truckers.

"Safety is the target there," Roy said. "It has become very cumbersome to manage trucking as far as the port of Savannah to Northwest Georgia. It has become a nightmare scenario so you build you your inland ports closer to your manufacturing base."

Heavy truck traffic on the I-75 to I-16 corridor slows movement and drives up the cost.

"You look at Suzuki, the faster they can move product in and out the more competitive they will be," Roy said.

Roy said the flooring industry in Northwest Georgia drove the location for the Murray County port which is expected to be able to move as many as 50,000 containers a year.

“That's a lot of containers, a lot of truck loads," Roy said

It is cheaper from local companies to haul a trailer load of product to Chatsworth, load it on a train and ship it to the coast than to drive the load to the coast themselves, Hodge said.

"Fuel costs will be reduced and the time involved in driving to the coast and back is gone," Hodge said. "We are actively communicating that with existing industries as well as prospects."