Georgia: Logistics Focal Point
Companies set their sights on Georgia with its booming
ocean ports, bustling airport, and thousands of miles of highway and railroads.
While Georgia’s mild temperatures, ocean coastline, and peanut crop—the state produces more than half of the peanuts grown in the country—tend to capture attention, the state also is a growing national and international logistics hub.
Georgia is home to 5,000 miles of railroads, 1,200 miles of interstate highways, and the Brunswick and Savannah deepwater ports, along with several inland ports. “Georgia has world-class infrastructure assets,” says Matt Markham, director of the Center of Innovation with the Georgia Department of Economic Development (DED).
The Peach State—in addition to its peanut crop, Georgia ranks third in the country in peach production—offers an extensive supply chain infrastructure that makes it a perfect location for trucking and logistics businesses, as well as those who depend on readily available warehouse space.
“Atlanta is a domestic logistics and supply chain focal point; there are many local transportation providers, logistics companies, and shippers within easy reach,” says Brian Thompson, chief commercial officer with SMC3, a provider of freight transportation technology solutions. Additionally, Hartsfield-Jackson airport allows the company’s employees to travel across North America with ease.
The Port of Savannah, for instance, is the third-busiest gateway in the United States, and is growing faster than any port in America, according to the DED. And at 1,350 acres, the Garden City Terminal at the port is the largest single-terminal container port in the Western Hemisphere, and the fourth-busiest container handling facility in the United States. It features 158 rubber-tired gantry cranes, 33 ship-to-shore cranes, and enough space to double its annual volume to 11 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
Room to Grow
A major expansion at the port, scheduled for completion in 2022, will deepen the river from 42 to 47 feet. This will accommodate today’s larger cargo ships and save businesses an estimated $174 million per year. “Savannah has the room to grow along with our customers,” says Griff Lynch, executive director with the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA).
In addition, the Savannah market features nearly 72 million square feet of industrial space, with another 6 million square feet that was under construction at the close of 2019. Even with this growth, the vacancy rate remains at 3.8%. “Savannah is one of the hottest markets in the country for commercial real estate,” Lynch says.
About 80 miles south of Savannah, the Port of Brunswick is one of the busiest auto and heavy machinery ports in the United States. More than 30 manufacturers of auto and heavy equipment move cargo through this port.
Georgia also is home to several inland ports. The Bainbridge Port, located on the Tri-Rivers System, handles a range of bulk cargo, including nitrogen solution, gypsum, ammonium sulfate, urea, cottonseed, and cypress bark mulch. The Appalachian Regional Port (ARP), established in 2018, “brings the benefits of the maritime port some 388 miles inland,” Lynch says.
Covering the Modes
Shipments heading to or from the ports can travel by Georgia’s two Class 1 and 24 short-line railroads, which together move nearly 200 million tons of cargo each year. Moreover, the Mason Mega Rail Terminal Project underway at the Port of Savannah will double its annual rail capacity to one million container lifts.
On the road, Georgia’s 1,200 miles of highway allow shippers to reach about 80% of the country in no more than two days of driving time.
When goods need to move even more quickly, about 80% of the U.S. market is within a two-hour flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The facility houses 1.5 million square feet of cargo handling space. The airport’s three main cargo complexes each has its own refueling and support systems, along with easy access to several highways. Adjacent to the airport is the 250-acre Georgia Free Trade Zone.
Along with its logistics infrastructure, Georgia offers a “readily available skilled, talented workforce,” says Fritz Holzgrefe, president and chief operating officer with Saia LTL Freight, a national less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier based in John’s Creek, Georgia.
This is key, given the technology now expected within the logistics field. At Saia, for instance, this includes the ability to track freight and schedule thousands of employees and tractors every day. “Having those resources available in the market is important,” Holzgrefe adds.
The economic impact of the logistics industry within Georgia equals about $60 billion, and one in 14 jobs in the state is tied to logistics, Markham says.
That number is likely to continue to grow. “The state of Georgia continues to add to and improve its logistics infrastructure,” says Evelyn Goldberg-Davis, executive vice president with JIT Warehousing & Logistics, LLC, a leader in warehousing and distribution technologies. This includes deepening the harbors at the Port of Savannah and expanding intrastate highways and roadways, allowing cost-effective and efficient logistics solutions farther outside of the Southeast corridor.
New rail ports that accommodate increased volumes make inland Georgia a more viable option for production and distribution companies, Goldberg-Davis adds.
“Companies are relocating to Georgia to take advantage of the relatively low cost of warehouse space,” Thompson says. For instance, in February 2020, Technical Props, a film industry prop company, announced it was leaving Los Angeles for Atlanta, adding to Georgia’s growing film industry.
“We have both the infrastructure and people to make Georgia one of the biggest distribution hubs in the country,” says Hal Justice, vice president, sales and operations with Atlanta Bonded Warehouse Corporation.
keeping it cool
When spring and summer rolled around in the 1940s, the heat made handling, storing, and delivering chocolate challenging. “In 1948, a broker of Peter Paul Mounds candy had the bright idea to put an air conditioner in a warehouse,” Justice says. “In the 1940s, air conditioning was new in industrial applications.”
That was the start of Atlanta Bonded Warehouse (ABW). Over the past 70-some years, it has expanded to 15 warehouses that total 4.9 million square feet across much of the Southeast. Its LTL transportation solutions span 26 states.
For many of its customers, ABW is the single source of distribution for the United States; for many other clients, ABW handles an oversized footprint, such as half the country. “When customers can minimize inventory locations, they are able to turn faster, reduce stock, boost fill rates, and increase control,” Justice says.
Visibility and control have become critical as more retailers impose fines if stock isn’t delivered on time and in the quantities ordered. Shippers increasingly need to ensure they have the right inventory in the right places, the right transportation resources, and the ability to fill capacity on short notice.
“The ability to provide the flexibility needed to meet these criteria has become a critical competency that all third-party logistics (3PL) providers need to have,” Justice says. ABW provides that flexibility.
In addition to operating multi-client and dedicated warehousing facilities, ABW offers freight consolidation and cross-docking programs, as well as co-packing services. Its in-house carrier, Colonial Cartage Corporation, handles load planning, dispatching, routing and delivery, and other services for its warehousing and freight consolidation customers.
Given its roots, it’s not surprising that most of the shipments ABW handles are food, food grade, or consumer packaged goods. All its facilities are food grade. ABW even turns down some business to avoid potential safety concerns. “Food safety is becoming a bigger and bigger deal,” Justice says.
Along with segregating potential allergens, even the placement of different foods within a warehouse takes thorough planning. “Some products—like garlic—have a distinct, pungent odor that can migrate to other products,” Justice says. “So, we’re careful about placing products.”
Ensuring that its customers’ many shipments get where they need to go is like a “well-choreographed dance,” Justice says. ABW employees must correctly sequence thousands of stock-keeping units (SKUs) in storage to facilitate order selection.
“It requires coordination with the customer, the outbound and inbound carrier, as well as internally,” he adds. “When each inbound truck arrives at the welcome center, we need to know which building and door to send it to for unloading and how urgently the inbound freight needs to be turned.”
To aid in this endeavor, ABW relies on a tier 1 warehouse management system (WMS), an experienced operating team, and a mindset in which the customer comes first.
Flexibility and resourcefulness also are key. For instance, a co-packaging customer asked ABW to handle another 80 to 90 runs, starting one week later. ABW changed its schedule and added workers to get it done. “We pride ourselves on being asked to do the unreasonable and the impossible, and then doing it,” Justice says.
“The Port of Savannah’s global carrier network, superior location, and faster-to-market service record provide vital links to international markets,” Lynch says. Among the port’s competitive advantages are these:
• Rail fluidity. Containers at the Garden City Terminal at the Port of Savannah move from vessel discharge to rail in less than 24 hours, enabling the port to complete 500,000 rail moves per year. The Mason Mega Rail terminal expansion, when complete, will double the Georgia Ports Authority’s on-terminal rail capacity.
• Cargo visibility. Because the GPA tracks intermodal containers from vessel discharge to customer pickup, customers always know their cargo’s location. On-site customer service representatives facilitate cargo movement, both at the terminals and at major inland rail destinations.
• Flexibility. With 38 weekly containership services, GPA provides scheduling flexibility and market reach. Of the weekly container services calling at the Port of Savannah,10 are first-in and 10 are last-out calls. Customers can get their import cargo moving overland more quickly on the first-in calls, while the last-out calls allow exporters to layer additional time into their manufacturing and logistics processes before their cargo has to be loaded on a vessel.
Given these attributes, it’s not surprising that business at the ports of Georgia continues to grow. In 2019, the GPA, which has major operations at the Port of Savannah, the Port of Brunswick, and the Appalachian Regional Port inland terminal, handled 4.6 million TEUs. That was up about 5.6% over the previous year.
Some of the GPA’s work occurs farther inland. Established in 2018, the ARP handled approximately 36,000 TEUs in CY2019.
“One goal of the ARP is encouraging economic development in a tier 1 county by providing efficient, cost-effective rail access,” Lynch says. “The inland port is having the desired effect.” A case in point: GE Appliances is investing $32 million to build a new logistics center about two miles from the ARP.
To build on its current success, the GPA will invest about $3.6 billion over the next 10 years across a range of capital improvements. This includes expanding container capacity at the Garden City Terminal and developing a new container terminal on Hutchinson Island in the Savannah River, across from the Port of Savannah.
In addition, the fleet of ship-to-shore cranes at the Port of Savannah will increase from 30 to 42 by 2028. By 2024, the new, larger cranes, which feature a lift height of 170 feet above the dock, will allow the port to serve six 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously.
The deepening of Savannah Harbor’s inner portion is scheduled for completion in 2021. “By better accommodating today’s larger, more efficient vessels, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will yield $7.30 in benefits for every $1 spent on construction,” Lynch says.
The greatest challenge facing the GPA, Lynch says, is keeping up with exponential growth in demand for intermodal rail service. Between fiscal years 2017 and 2019, rail cargo at the Port of Savannah grew by more than 35%—more than twice the rate of GPA’s overall growth in container trade.
To help accommodate this growth, the Mason Mega Rail Terminal will add 97,000 feet of new rail track at the Garden City Terminal, bringing it to a total of nearly 180,000 feet. It also will increase the number of working tracks from eight to 18. Together, these will double the Port of Savannah’s rail lift capacity to 2 million TEUs per year. ”
This capability, in turn, will enable direct rail service to major Southeast and Midwestern markets—areas that offer opportunity for significant market share growth for East Coast ports,” Lynch says.
Value in Versatility
JIT Warehousing & Logistics is well positioned to play a critical role in helping with the continued increase in shipments moving through Georgia to other parts of the country. A family-owned and operated company that’s moving into its second generation of leadership, JIT manages 750,000 square feet of storage space, spread across four facilities, all located within just a few miles of the Garden City and Ocean Terminals at the Port of Savannah, says Goldberg-Davis.
In addition, JIT’s trucking services currently operate 18 tractors for local trucking, while its brokerage division handles over-the-road transportation needs. This includes specialized trucks and trailers for over-dimensional and heavy hauls.
Among the many services JIT offers are warehousing, trucking, shipside delivery, port pickup, container dray, stripping, and cross-docking. Originally an asset-based company, JIT has recently added an owner-operator division to its trucking division to service increased demands.
“We find value in versatility,” Goldberg-Davis says. Customers can count on JIT providing the equipment they need to handle every type of commodity, including palletized general cargo, drums, lumber, paper (both rolled and baled), cotton, steel coils, bar, sheet, tubing, and machinery.
“Import and export, we can receive and ship via rail, domestic van and flatbed, and containers and break bulk,” she adds.
This versatility has been a hallmark of JIT since its founding in 1998 by Ben Goldberg, father of Goldberg-Davis. Another daughter, Anna Lockwood, also serves as vice president, and her husband, Trevor Lockwood, oversees JIT’s over-dimensional division, including road escort, rigging, cranes, and specialized tractors and trailers for heavy haul.
Their experience with a broad range of shipment and transportation types provides JIT’s employees with the insight needed to easily troubleshoot the unexpected challenges that inevitably arise in logistics.
“Whether a shipment isn’t packaged as expected or is heavier or lighter than planned—handling these challenges is no problem,” Goldberg-Davis says.
Just as important, “being highly versatile has also allowed us to stay relevant though the economic ups and downs over the past 20 years, including during recessions, tariff changes, and other challenges,” Goldberg-Davis says.
This stability means customers can be confident JIT will be there to help them move their shipments on time and accurately—both today and into the future. “We are here to help,” she adds. “With over 30 years of experience, JIT, Just In Time, is your turn-key warehouse and logistics provider.”
In 1924, Louis Saia, Sr., a produce dealer in Houma, Louisiana, decided he could make more money delivering produce than selling it. He tore the rear seats out of the family car to create Saia LTL Freight’s first truck. With that, he launched his business.
Today, Saia, now based in Johns Creek, Georgia, is an LTL carrier with a network of 169 terminals providing service nationwide.
“We have grown from being a regional carrier to a national carrier,” Holzgrefe says. While most shipments move on pallets, the range of products Saia ships is extremely diverse: flagpoles, paint, diapers, pumps, motors, chemicals, golf carts, and lawn mowers, to highlight a few. “The freight mix generally reflects all corners of the national economy,” he adds.
Along with its LTL operations, Saia also provides complete transportation and logistics solutions through Saia Logistics Services and LinkEx, a full-service 3PL company.
“Saia’s real points of differentiation are quality and service,” Holzgrefe says. In addition to employees’ expertise, technology is critical to ensuring quality and service and serving customers efficiently, he adds. To that end, Saia continues to invest in several areas of technology.
For instance, Saia has partnered with a technology firm to develop industry-leading software that streamlines and accelerates pickup and delivery operations. It quickly and accurately builds routes, which reduces fuel and labor costs, while meeting customer service commitments. This efficiency means customers’ shipments move quickly, safely, and cost-effectively.
At the terminal, Saia uses technology to determine how to most efficiently organize freight coming in for cross-docking. Another solution helps Saia quickly check the weight and dimensions of customers’ shipments, so they can maximize use of their trailers, and provide speedier, more cost-effective shipping solutions for customers.
Sustainability has also long been a key goal of Saia, and it strives to be environmentally responsible in its operations. Among the initiatives it has undertaken to reduce its carbon footprint are limiting tractor speed, implementing a “no idling” policy, and recycling its used oil, hazardous waste, scrap metal, wastepaper, cardboard, and tires.
The company has aggressively invested in its fleet, reducing the average age of its tractors to less than four years. Its modern fleet includes state-of-the-art safety technology and provides enhanced fuel efficiency.
To continue to provide quality service, Saia is building a new terminal in the northern Atlanta metro area. Slated to open in early 2021, the facility will feature 80 to 100 doors and state-of-the-art logistics technology, as well as energy-efficient lighting and other building systems. “In this facility, we will have ample space so that we can best serve our markets in Atlanta and elsewhere,” Holzgrefe says.
Over the past five years, Saia has grown from about $1.1 billion to about $1.8 billion in revenue. “We’re making a substantial investment in the Atlanta metro area because we have a high level of confidence in not only what we can provide our customers, but more broadly, we’re confident in the economic conditions of Atlanta, Georgia, and the Southeast,” Holzgrefe says.
“There are many advantages to being in Georgia,” he adds. “It is a good environment for business and there is a talented workforce, which is key when it comes to recruiting.”
Insight and Expertise
As supply chain professionals know, logistics technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. SMC3 provides the data and technology solutions to facilitate management of the entire over-the-road shipping process, from the initial rating and bidding to after-delivery analysis, helping LTL and truckload stakeholders stay abreast of these changes.
“We’ve always been dedicated to developing technology solutions that serve the entire supply chain ecosystem, and we continually work to serve the needs and solve the issues of every customer working in the modern-day logistics arena,” Thompson says.
“Because SMC3 offers a range of solutions, it’s uniquely positioned to help customers of any size across the continent, including those with diverse freight transportation requirements,” Thompson adds. Its products continue to support customers’ needs as they grow, whether they’re a shipper dealing with 10 shipments per week or a logistics service provider handling 10,000 shipments per day.
“We deliver solutions for those requiring high-powered tools to support transportation optimization and advanced modeling as well as those seeking simpler, secure solutions,” he says.
The company’s solutions support procurement, rate- and transit-time calculations, shipment execution, document retrieval, and real-time shipment visibility. The technology suite SMC3 offers connects shippers with carriers through direct API and EDI communication, as well as through custom data integrations. The goal? “Facilitating the seamless flow of information digitally,” Thompson says.
For instance, shippers look to SMC³’s over-the-road RFP solution Bid$ense to optimize their freight spend and streamline transportation planning, saving both time and money. For carriers, SMC³’s truckload expertise comes in the form of its Cost Intelligence System, which provides comprehensive insight into the profitability of individual shipments and loads for both truckload and LTL providers. Carriers can obtain accurate and credible cost information by customers, freight terminals, and/or lanes.
SMC3 continues to develop new technology solutions all with an eye to a simple truth: The introduction of innovative supply chain solutions into established supply chain processes is the best way to solve complex transportation issues. With more intelligent, relevant data, shippers can make better-informed choices on optimizing their freight transportation spend, improving carrier selection, and elevating customer service.
“And as data experts, SMC³ also helps shippers standardize disparate carrier data, which may originally be submitted in a range of formats,” Thompson adds.
In its support of the logistics industry, SMC3 offers educational services through semi-annual conferences and online coursework focused on LTL training. “There’s a void in the industry for education, and it is our mission to fill that gap by providing intensive, thoughtful educational experiences to teach the next generation of supply chain leaders how the industry functions,” Thompson says.
Before he launched Turbo Transport—a predecessor to Syfan Logistics—in 1984, Jim Syfan, chief executive officer, worked in the transportation brokerage industry for nearly a decade.
Between 1984 and 2004, Syfan diligently grew Turbo Transport into a $100-million company with more than 150 employees. The company was sold in 2006.
In 2011, the Syfans decided to tackle another challenge. They started Syfan Logistics by investing in a first-class fleet of trucks and a professional team who shared their ambition and unflagging attention to customer service.
Syfan Logistics remains a family business at heart, even as it has grown into an asset-based, $150-million company with 350 employees and nearly five decades of experience hauling a range of products, with a focus on food, auto, and package delivery.
“Syfan is committed 24/7 to technology and communications. We run our own fleet of trucks, and have gained the expertise to eliminate problems before they happen,” says president Greg Syfan.
At its headquarters in Gainesville, Georgia, a recent 19,000-square-foot expansion provides room to add about 50% more employees over the next two years.
Today, Syfan offers a full menu of services for its customers, including transport, expedited, and third-party logistics, power only, yard management support, freight management services, and project management.
Because Syfan employs its own in-house dispatch team, it’s always on the job, working for its customers. By using advanced communications systems, Syfan keeps customers updated on the movements of their shipments.
From its start, the Syfan team gained experience meeting the demanding and product-sensitive deadlines of the poultry industry in Georgia. They’ve also worked with some of the country’s largest foodstuffs companies, delivering products ranging from seafood and confectioneries to cereal and soft drinks.
At the same time, “Syfan has taken the same focus on reliability and applied it to our work with non-food customers, including the largest package delivery companies in the world, as well as the nation’s major automotive manufacturers,” Greg Syfan adds.
Logistics Future: It’s Peachy
The success Georgia’s logistics infrastructure has seen so far promises to continue, given the infrastructure investments the state is making. One example is its $11-billion investment in highway improvements, Markham says. For instance, it’s designing commercial-vehicle-only lanes dedicated to trucks, improving both safety and efficiency.
To start, the lanes will run between Macon, Georgia, and the southern Atlanta metro area, which is home to many distribution centers. “That stretch of Interstate 75 currently sees 16,000 trucks per day,” he adds.
Similarly, Georgia’s ports continue to improve and expand. For instance, the Northeast Georgia Inland Port, slated to open in 2021, will link northeast Georgia with Savannah, and will be able to handle 150,000 container lifts annually.
In early February 2020, the Georgia Ports Authority acquired 145 contiguous acres to the Port of Savannah, equal to more than one million TEUs in annual capacity. This was the largest addition of container terminal space in Savannah in more than 20 years, Lynch said in a release.
The planned Jasper Ocean Terminal, if completed, could make Savannah the nation’s largest container port, says Nikolay Osadchiy, associate professor of information systems and operations management at Emory University. The port, which is estimated to be operational in 2035, would be located in Jasper County, South Carolina, according to the Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Venture. The endeavor is a partnership between the states of Georgia and South Carolina, a reflection of its proximity to Georgia’s Garden City Terminal, which is served by the ports of both states.
As currently envisioned, the port will be located on 1,500 acres and have capacity for 7 million TEUs. Several transportation projects have been proposed to serve the terminal, including a new four-lane highway and double-track rail corridor.
“Over the past 10 years, Georgia has been annually honored as one of the best states for business in the United States,” Greg Syfan says. “A significant contributing factor is its advantages in moving freight.”
Lights, Camera, Action!
In 2020, filmgoers and television viewers will see the release of about 17 films and shows for AppleTV+, NBC, OWN TV, and Netflix that were produced in Georgia. While the tax incentives offered to the industry undoubtedly play a role in producers’ decision to film in Georgia, so does the state’s infrastructure. About one dozen stage operators offer more than 75 stages in Georgia, including two of the largest in the country, at 80,000 and 55,000 square feet, respectively, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“Having an airport with a lot of direct flights is advantageous for a film industry that brings talent from around the country,” says Nikolay Osadchiy, associate professor of information systems and operations management at Emory University.
“As the production infrastructure is established, the hope is that the reliance on tax incentives for bringing new business will decrease,” he adds.