Record growth at the Port of Savannah and Port of Brunswick for the fiscal year ended June 30 has inspired optimism among Georgia Ports Authority officials about the ports’ prospects and Georgia’s position in international trade.

The Savannah port’s total container volume increased by 14.5 percent over the fiscal year, solidifying the port’s status as the nation’s fourth largest and fastest growing, according to a statement release by the ports authority.

The drastic growth continued during the first month of the new fiscal year and should remain strong throughout the calendar year, according to John Wheeler, the ports authority’s director of trade development.

“Results for July 2007 topped the same month last year by a staggering 28 percent,” Mr. Wheeler told GlobalAtlanta. He added that the pre-Christmas rush should keep volume high throughout the next quarter.

A variety of factors have sparked more Georgia imports from China, which is one of the principal contributors to the Savannah port’s increasing volume, Mr. Wheeler said.

The Savannah area has more than 15 distribution centers for major retailers like Home Depot Inc., Inter IKEA System B.V., Target Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., attracting steamship consortia and Chinese suppliers that want to take advantage of the port’s reliable supply chain and efficient access into major economic centers in the eastern and central U.S., Mr. Wheeler said.

“Based upon considerations of transit, cost and day-specific deliveries, inland points such as Chicago, Dallas, Orlando and Atlanta are now serviced via Savannah,” he said.

China is not the only Asian nation boosting exports to the Savannah port.

With the emergence of a sizable middle class in China, a significant amount of low-cost manufacturing is shifting to other Asian nations like Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

To cut costs en route to the U.S. East Coast, many companies in these nations prefer the Suez Canal to the Panama Canal, and the Georgia authority has drawn to Savannah seven major steamship groups that have embraced the Suez strategy, Mr. Wheeler said.

Stephen Green, chairman of the ports authority’s board of directors, called the Savannah port a “gateway for American commerce” and said that the Port of Brunswick also saw dramatic growth over the fiscal year.

“Our Colonel’s Island facility handled a record 1.245 million tons, a 10 percent increase over the previous year,” Mr. Green said in a statement. Most of the growth came from bulk commodities, which increased by 41.1 percent over the previous year, he added.

Ongoing initiatives by the ports authority have officials expecting the automobile volume to “more than double” at the Brunswick port soon, Mr. Green said.

Ports authority officials attributed the record figures to the agency’s marketing and investment strategies as well as Georgia’s growing economy, exuding a positive outlook for the ports during a time when flourishing international trade promises more growth for the state.

“Georgia continues to attract container volume faster than any other state in the nation,” said ports authority Executive Director Doug Marchand in a statement.

In addition to Georgia’s strong bi-lateral trade with Asia, Mr. Wheeler predicted healthy two-way activity with longtime partners in Europe and Africa, and he hopes to see substantial growth in volume from South America.

“We’re hoping Brazil will finally fulfill its promise as a major economic engine,” he told GlobalAtlanta.
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