Georgia: Setting the Pace in the Logistics Race

Tags: Ocean, Economic Development, Site Selection, Ports, Logistics, Technology , Supply Chain

An ideal location, reliable infrastructure, talented workforce, and best-of-breed technology position companies locating in Georgia to take the lead.

No matter how you slice the Peach State, its logistics assets are sweet. The seamless connection of Georgia's logistics infrastructure offers businesses a distinct and significant competitive edge. When companies choose to locate in Georgia, they can rely on a solid foundation of transportation advantages that sustain business growth in an increasingly globalized economy.

"Georgia's elected officials and economic development team get it," says Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA). "They understand the value of a strong transportation network when it comes to luring new employers and growing existing businesses. Their commitment to improving Georgia's road and rail offerings will help keep the state at the forefront of the nation's logistics industry."

In fact, everywhere in Georgia—air, land and sea—things are looking up.

Choose Your Mode

The GPA facilitates global trade through deepwater ports in Savannah and Brunswick. The Port of Savannah is the fourth-busiest and fastest-growing U.S. container port. Its convenient single-terminal design speeds truck turn-times and means greater flexibility in handling large influxes of cargo from new Panamax vessels carrying containers for allied shipping lines.

With two on-terminal Class 1 rail services available, Port of Savannah customers moving containers by rail enjoy superior speed and reliability, with most cargo moving from vessel to rail within 24 hours, and guaranteed 24-hour service for priority boxes.

"Savannah offers the fastest westward transit times in the South Atlantic region, including service to a five-state area—Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina," Lynch notes. Moreover, Savannah has the largest concentration of retail import distribution centers in the Southeast.

Meanwhile, the Port of Brunswick is one of the nation's busiest seaports for automobile trade, handling cargo for 21 domestic and foreign auto manufacturers. Brunswick also features the second-largest grain facility on the East Coast.

The state's logistics superiority is by no means limited to its ports. With 5,000 miles of rail, and service from CSX, Norfolk Southern and nearly two dozen short-line railroad companies, Georgia features the most extensive rail system in the Southeast and serves as the region's largest intermodal hub.

Georgia also wins the road race with an extensive interstate highway system facilitating the efficient movement of freight by truck. Six interstates connect to 80 percent of the U.S. population within a two-day truck drive.

The state's infrastructure also includes two major transcontinental interstate highways (I-95 and I-75). Four additional interstates (I-20, I-85, I-16, I-59) connect Georgia to 15 states. A total of 1,200 miles of interstate highway and 20,000 miles of federal and state highway run through the Peach State.

An average of 5.9 million tons of freight is transported via road across the state weekly. The recently opened Jimmy DeLoach Connector provides a direct truck route between the Port of Savannah and Interstate 95. "Improved connectivity for cargo moving through Garden City Terminal saves time and money for port customers," Lynch says.

The four-lane Jimmy DeLoach Connector carries more than 5,000 trucks per day, cutting 11 minutes of drive time between the terminal and I-95 for each truck. This adds up to a 900-hour savings in truck transit per day, yielding important reductions in highway emissions.

The Jimmy DeLoach Connector is part of a broader transportation improvement effort. In order to avoid congestion and accommodate freight traffic, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has announced a 10-year, $10-billion project list. The transportation plan will deliver results for every corner of the state. Saving thousands of hours of drive time each day, the governor's plan adds 331 new lane miles, 76 of which are truck-only.

With all those advantages on water and land, Georgia also is something of a sky king. When it comes to moving both cargo and people, you might even say that Georgia has its head in the clouds. The state is an international center for air passenger travel—home to the world's busiest and most efficient passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. No other airport offers more scheduled flights than Atlanta's, with direct flights to 75 international destinations in 50 countries.

Providing access to 80 percent of the U.S. market within a two-hour flight, Hartsfield-Jackson is home to 14 cargo-only carriers. In addition to three main cargo complexes moving more than 650,000 tons of cargo annually, the airport houses a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved Perishables Complex, the only one of its kind in the southeastern United States.

What's New?

Seeing rail cargo as a special growth opportunity, the GPA has started work on the Savannah International Multi-Modal Connector. "The on-terminal rail expansion will double Garden City Terminal's rail lift capacity to 1 million containers per year," Lynch says. "It also will allow the port to better accommodate 10,000-foot- long unit trains."

Expanded unit train capacity on terminal will build density into the system, and enable rail providers CSX and Norfolk Southern to deliver faster, more frequent rail service to markets along the Mid-American Arc, he adds. This is due in part to the fact that unit train service makes the most efficient use of private rail carrier infrastructure. This, in turn, makes longer routes into the country's heartland—Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and the Ohio Valley—more attractive to rail carriers. These unit trains will make Savannah a more efficient gateway for U.S. manufacturers competing in a global market.

The Savannah International Multi-Modal Connector will cost $128 million. It will be funded in part by a $44-million federal Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) grant, with the remainder covered by local funding. The project will be complete in 2021.

The Ports of Savannah and Brunswick serve as central hubs for maritime, road, and rail traffic. At the Port of Savannah, cargo volume exceeded 3.6 million TEUs for the second straight year in 2016. Growth in 2017 is expected to exceed that, given improving domestic economic conditions and increasing port calls from 8,000- to 10,000-TEU ships transiting the expanded Panama Canal. In Brunswick, the GPA moved 603,000 units of roll-on/roll-off cargo in 2016, with another 38,000 units moving via Ocean Terminal in Savannah.

The GPA also is establishing inland rail terminals throughout the state. Shifting more cargo to rail takes advantage of high-volume train movements, reducing truck traffic on Georgia highways. The inland terminal in Cordele, Ga., has been operating as a GPA affiliate since 2013. A second inland terminal, at Chatsworth in Northwest Georgia, is now under construction. The GPA estimates the CSX rail route will reduce Atlanta truck traffic by 50,000 moves annually, and expand GPA's target market in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

"As part of our Network Georgia initiative, GPA will collaborate with communities and transportation partners to develop at least four additional sites," Lynch says. "These inland terminals will expand the port's reach with more economical shipping alternatives for customers."

Other efforts to increase capacity at the Georgia Ports Authority include:

In 2016, the GPA added four new Panamax ship-to-shore cranes (for a total of 26 cranes) and 20 rubber-tired gantry cranes (total 146). The Port of Savannah will gain another four ship-to-shore cranes in 2018. The additional ship-to-shore cranes will allow the GPA to move more than 1,000 containers per hour across a single dock.

GPA also opened a new 30-acre empty container yard and an eight-lane truck gate in order to speed the flow of trucks.

Last year also saw a six-acre extension of the port authority's dockside container yard, adding storage space for 2,850 TEUs at Garden City Terminal.

At the Port of Brunswick, more than 200 acres are in the design or development stages, adding more space for auto processing at Colonel's Island Terminal.

Growth Spurs Growth

At Atlanta Bonded Warehouse (ABW), the continuing and growing prominence of Georgia in the U.S. logistics infrastructure serves as a catalyst for the company's own growth.

"In 2016, we expanded our public operations footprint in Georgia by 38 percent to keep up with the demand for our services, both from the advantages provided by the Savannah port and Georgia's interstate network as well as the advantages provided by our transportation programs and cost-effective warehouse services," says Hal Justice, ABW's vice president of sales and operations.

"In 2017, we are planning to add even more capacity on our Atlanta campus," Justice says. "Over the past five years, we have grown our footprint by more than 210 percent."

ABW's main metro Atlanta campus is in Kennesaw, convenient to major interstate highways and served by CSX rail service. Overall, the company offers more than 2.4 million square feet of modern, secure, high-cube storage capacity just in metro Atlanta. Justice says that ABW, the leading provider of temperature-controlled warehousing and LTL transportation services in the Southeast, takes full advantage of Georgia's logistics assets and he sees no slowing down for either the state or the company.

"Georgia will continue to serve as a critical resource within the North American supply chain," he says. "The continued investments—both public and private—into infrastructure and plant and warehouse capacity will keep it there."

Georgia's advantages extend from having the fourth-largest container port in the United States to an interstate system that radiates from Atlanta to cover every major Southeastern market to a workforce well trained in materials movement. The deepening of the Port of Savannah and the state's highway initiatives are the most important improvements in the past year, Justice says.

Traffic in and around metropolitan Atlanta will improve thanks to the creation of express lanes on both I-75 north and I-75 south. In addition, Justice cites commitments to improve the I-285 and Georgia 400 interchange.

ABW is seizing on these and other infrastructure improvements to increase its own contributions to the logistics landscape.

"We have worked hard to develop distribution programs that link products coming through the Port of Savannah into our LTL consolidation program for mid-temp products—those needing 50-75 degrees Fahrenheit," Justice says. "From our campus in Atlanta, we distribute to every major retailer on a scheduled weekly basis in the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest and Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains. This service area allows our customers to eliminate redundant inventories in the Southwest or Midwest, yet still maintain scheduled weekly deliveries.

"By incorporating transportation and co-packaging services as a part of our total warehouse service offering, we have had to expand our warehousing footprint in Atlanta to keep pace with demand," he adds.

Since its inception in 1948, ABW has offered multi-client/public warehousing services to its customers. Originally founded to serve the confectionery industry, ABW now provides distribution for a number of food and food-compatible products.

The company also has extensive experience operating contract (dedicated) facilities. ABW's operations routinely score best-in-network across a wide array of key performance metrics and the company has received numerous awards for operational excellence.

In the realm of value-added, the company offers freight consolidation cross-docking services, consolidated order picking for bulk pool shipments, labeling, repacking, and co-packing. To retain cutting-edge services and prepare for the future, ABW uses a tier-one Warehouse Management System (WMS). The company's investment in the WMS reflects its confidence that its own growth will continue to mirror growth in the state.

Technology Is Key

"Georgia is well positioned in the southern United States to serve as a transportation hub," says Andrew Slusher, president and CEO of Georgia-based SMC³. Slusher makes his pronouncement from a perspective that is far more than that of a home-state cheerleader. SMC³, in fact, views the logistics sector quite literally from the cloud. The company provides transportation data and technology solutions for industry leaders across North America. As such, the firm could be based just about anywhere, but chose the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City as its headquarters.

So Why Georgia?

"In addition to the largest airport in the world, Georgia serves as a main gateway for international commerce through its world-class port in Savannah," Slusher says. "Through our world-class port, Georgia also serves as one of the main gateways for international commerce. As the port generates more business, LTL activity in Georgia and beyond increases. SMC³ is here to support this boost in activity with our cutting-edge technology solutions."

As the technology and transportation hub of the southeast, Atlanta offers an environment loaded with top-tier talent. "Due to our proximity to this workforce, we can easily attract the employee base needed to create some of the leading technology tools in the transportation industry," Slusher says.

As for the company's own contributions to the state's logistics assets, SMC³ boasts expertise that has established it as a highly respected thought leader, hosting premier supply chain conferences and educational events in Georgia and elsewhere. Shippers, carriers, logistics service and technology providers rely on SMC³ to translate intricate LTL transportation pricing and transit detail into data-centric solutions.

Simply put? "We fuel the LTL transportation arena by way of innovative and forward-looking solutions, helping the community optimize LTL decisions throughout the entire shipment lifecycle," Slusher says.

As an example of the company's innovation and reach, Slusher points to an initiative undertaken south of the border—of the United States, that is.

"After thinking about it for quite some time, we recently took a large step into the Mexican LTL market with the creation of MexicoLite Intra, a rate benchmark that will create a level-rate playing field for shippers and 3PLs operating inside Mexico," he explains. "In developing the tool, which mirrors what we've done with other MexicoLite and other CzarLite products, we had the cooperation of the top LTL carriers in Mexico, many of whom joined us at the SMC³ Jump Start conference in January to announce the product."

The value to Mexican shippers is enormous, he says, all thanks to a company headquartered in Georgia. "Think about how many unknowns have existed in the past when sending an LTL shipment between two points in Mexico," Slusher says. "Shippers haven't historically had a reliable way to benchmark the pricing data they received from carriers, so they were at a loss when negotiating contracts. We've given these customers the tools that allow them to determine the best price and carrier for their shipments every single time."

It's all about the links—from here to there to market square—and how one Georgia company can direct the traffic from the cloud. "Our company was founded on the idea of fostering cooperation among all members of the supply chain by supplying transportation technology focused on providing solutions targeted at LTL rating, transit-time and shipment visibility," Slusher says. "We have thrived through multiple generations of content delivery—from distributing printed paper tariffs via the U.S. mail system to disseminating content by way of our secure SMC³ cloud and the SMC³ Platform."

Slusher is confident that Georgia's role in logistics—and the role that SMC³ plays within it—will continue to grow.

"Cloud-based technology and the streamlining of supply chains will only become more important," he says. "In the current API [applied programming interface] economy, connectivity is a critical step in fully optimizing carrier-connected communication options that shippers, 3PLs, and logistics technology providers are demanding. Our role right now is to incorporate existing technology with other data points brought in from the network of carriers to provide new, unrivaled services to our customers that help them optimize the LTL portions of their supply chains for years to come."

And all this will be accomplished from the cloud in Georgia, USA. "I can think of nowhere better to serve as the headquarters for a company that is so involved in the constantly evolving technology that fuels the LTL industry," he says.

Jeff Lantz, president of Atlanta-based C.L. Services, Inc. (CLS), puts it simply: "As they say in real estate: location, location, location." And CLS is in the heart of it all.

"We are located in the center of one of the fastest-growing hubs for all modes of transportation and population," Lantz says. "There are a lot of great things happening in our state, economically speaking."

CLS—which moves shipments both nationally and internationally, specializing in dry van, flatbed and temperature-controlled truckload services throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico—makes the most of its strategic spot on the map. The company's average length of haul is 750 miles, but a short ride is hardly its only advantage.

Taking the Next Step

"Over the past year, we have moved from being a 3PL to being an asset-based 3PL," Lantz says. "We have taken the next step with C.L. Services Transport to provide dedicated services to our growing client base. We feel that long term this will be a great play for us in local markets.

"We also have stepped out there with developing our own technology," he adds. "While it is closed loop, our goal is to create a seamless open network shared with our clients and vendors. We want everyone to have easy access to tracking, pricing, invoicing, and data."

CLS offers numerous freight opportunities for everyone from the single owner-operator to the mega carriers. The company offers LTL and full truckload services, including temperature-controlled and expedited. Equipment types include standard flatbeds, step decks, lowboys, removable goosenecks, and extendable trailers. Shippers can track their shipments and carriers can see available shipments, upload the list of available equipment, and check payment status.

In addition to intermodal and drayage services, CLS also provides warehousing and transloading. But, Lantz insists, none of this comes close to telling the whole story.

"Everyone has great people, right? We certainly have exceptional people, proven by our stringent hiring and testing standards for both operations supply chain employees and drivers," he says. "But what makes us different is that we are in business to make sure we take care of our people, clients, and vendors.

"We have created a great culture that fosters exceptional customer service," Lantz notes. "You will always be able to reach a live person 24 hours a day, seven days a week—someone who genuinely wants to help you solve your problem. We live by the 'Prosponsive Promise' to proactively respond and communicate quickly and honestly with all of our clients and vendors."

Large, Yet Small

An extensive carrier network augments CLS's employees, and the company clearly prides itself on providing shippers and carriers with an unusually high level of service and communication. Lantz and Russ Caudell, the company's chief financial officer who co-founded CLS with Lantz in 1997, like to say the company is large enough to serve its customers yet small enough to know them.

They are enthusiastic about Georgia's future prospects in the ever-changing logistics marketplace. "Georgia is prime to on-board companies that are moving their business back to the United States," Lantz says. "The state is set up to be a global origin and destination."

They also see the opportunity that lies ahead as a challenge to their company and others. "Get on the bus or get left behind," Lantz says. "We are looking for more ways to fit in. We want to make sure we make strategic moves to benefit our current clients and new ones.

"One of the biggest challenges will be a lot of demand for talent in this market in all facets of the supply chain."

No Slowing Down

It all adds up to full steam ahead—or, more accurately, all engines on "go." The Georgia Ports Authority, for example, plans to move forward with numerous initiatives over the next five years, including growing its ship-to-shore crane fleet, and adding space for dry containers and chilled cargos.

Meanwhile, Georgia's 10-year, $10-billion freight mobility plan will have delivered the Brampton Road Connector, linking Garden City Terminal to I-516, and have extended the Jimmy Deloach Parkway from I-95 to I-16. This will form a complete cargo beltway for motor carriers between the port and the interstate network.

"These improvements will strengthen GPA's role in economic development for the state and region," Lynch says. "Through greater efficiency and broader reach, we expect that impact to expand with the nation's growing reliance on Georgia's ports."

The country's reliance on professional expertise, ideal location, extraordinary workforce, and collaborative spirit will keep Georgia in front of the logistics pack.