Georgia: The Logistics Advantage
In the world of logistics, Georgia offers both the ways and the means.
General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics."
Ike was speaking in a military context, but the truth he espoused is just as incontrovertible when applied to the art and craft of moving goods from here to there. And the landscape (and air- and seascape) over which those goods travel is highly likely to include Georgia, a leading point of origin for companies to move products to their customers.
A superior infrastructure and position as home base for many leading global logistics companies and practitioners enhance the state’s inherent geographical advantage.
From port to rail to air to road, Georgia offers the logistics ways and means. With service from CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern, and nearly two dozen shortline railroad companies, Georgia features the most extensive rail system in the Southeast and serves as the region’s largest intermodal hub. If that were not enough, Georgia interstates connect to 80 percent of the U.S. population within a two-day truck drive.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport continues to see year-over-year gains in the volume of cargo traffic it supports. And Georgia’s seaports serve as magnets for international trade and investment.
The litany of Georgia’s logistics advantages is so long that one may argue the only challenge logistics providers face is trying to single out the state’s greatest logistics asset.
Take a breath. Let the litany begin:
- As the westernmost container port on the U.S. East Coast, the Port of Savannah enjoys a significant geographical advantage in reaching important inland markets.
- A network of major interstates, including north-south corridors I-95 and I-75 and east-west routes I-16, I-20, and I-85, means key cities and manufacturing points throughout the U.S. Southeast and Midwest may be reached within a one- to two-day drive.
- Georgia boasts one of the most extensive rail freight systems in the United States, with approximately 5,000 miles of track transporting 200 million tons of freight each year. The rail hub of Atlanta handles cargo destined for locations ranging from Dallas to Chicago and the Ohio River Valley and beyond.
Launched for Leadership
A key component in all of these logistics assets is the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), which facilitates global trade through deepwater ports in Savannah and Brunswick.
"Our approach to continuous improvement can be summarized as the three Rs—river, rail, and roads," says GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. "Savannah’s harbor deepening is now 50 percent complete and fully funded this year, and six neo-Panamax cranes will arrive within a year.
"By April, we will grow the Port of Savannah’s big ship berth capacity by 50 percent, and in five years we will have the ability to handle six 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously," he adds. "No other single container terminal in North America has the ability to expand berth capacity at this rate."
To ensure cargo fluidity beyond the port’s gates, the Authority is building the Mason Mega Rail Terminal, which will double Savannah’s rail lift capacity to 1 million containers per year. This massive rail expansion is now 25 percent complete. And in August 2018, the GPA opened the Appalachian Regional Port, an intermodal facility serving northwest Georgia, northeast Alabama, and parts of Tennessee and Kentucky.
"Additionally, the Georgia Department of Transportation is extending a four-lane route from our main gate so that trucks that already have a direct link to Interstate 95 will also have expedited access to Interstate 16 for east-west service," Lynch says.
Over the next five years, the Authority plans to add another 21 neo-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes, replacing 14 of its older models to bring the total fleet to 37. Dock upgrades are already underway to support the new, larger machines.
The Savannah market is also seeing significant private development. Over the past 24 months, private investors have added 9 million square feet to bring Savannah’s total industrial real estate market to 60.6 million square feet. The rate of construction has since accelerated, with another 9.2 million square feet of industrial space currently under construction.
"Part of our job at Georgia’s ports is not only to stay ahead of the growth curve, but also to identify and focus on new market opportunities," Lynch says. "In an exciting development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved the Port of Savannah to handle chilled cargo from origin countries worldwide. Georgia’s world-class port services, combined with shorter overland routes to inland markets, mean time-sensitive cargo can reach customers faster, fresher, and at lower cost."
The export of resin pellets produced by petroleum refineries in states such as Texas and Louisiana represents another opportunity for Georgia.
E-commerce fulfillment centers and traditional distribution center operations will continue to mean strong demand for port services via Garden City Terminal. Lynch notes the recent announcement that Wayfair will add more than 1 million square feet and 1,000 jobs to handle cargo moving through the Port of Savannah.
"As the third-busiest gateway for containerized trade in the United States, Georgia will continue to expand capacity, helping new customers reach growing markets across the U.S. Southeast and Midwest," Lynch says. "The GPA will play an important role by continuing to invest in the infrastructure necessary to provide services our customers view as essential in the coming years."
Georgia has had its share of catchy slogans over the years. In fact, an entire website is devoted to 40 of the catchiest—from "Put your dreams in motion" to "Wisdom, Justice and Moderation." But here’s a new one we might suggest with logistics especially in mind: "Investing in tomorrow."
Hal Justice, vice president of sales and operations for Atlanta Bonded Warehouse (ABW), can quickly cite some of the reasons such a slogan would be apt. "Georgia continues to invest heavily in infrastructure with the deepening and extension of the Port of Savannah, multiple improvements to the highway system in and around Atlanta, and the opening of the northwest Georgia Inland Port," he says.
The GPA’s new inland hub features a 388-mile direct link via rail carrier CSX Transportation to the Port of Savannah.
ABW, the leading provider of temperature-controlled warehousing and less-than-truckload and truckload services in the Southeast, has played a significant role in Georgia’s logistics prominence for more than seven decades.
Peter Paul, a candy broker seeking to provide protective warehousing to the confectionery industry, organized the company in 1948. It operated under the name Acme Bonded Warehouse until 1981, when the current name was adopted. After two expansions, the original Acme facility encompassed 42,500 square feet of refrigerated storage space with a 10-foot clear height.
The company’s contributions to the state’s logistics assets continue. "Over the past six years, ABW’s footprint has expanded at a 16-percent compounded growth rate," Justice says. "Our business from and to the Port of Savannah has fueled much of that growth. In the past year, we have opened two new facilities with more than 500,000 square feet of storage capacity. One of those facilities is dedicated to handling the expansion of our co-packaging and LTL consolidation programs. We had simply outgrown our existing facility."
Justice is proud of the state’s attention to the details necessary to retain its leadership in the ever-changing logistics marketplace. "We believe that the decision-makers in Georgia recognize the unique geography and natural assets of the state," he says. "They work diligently to use those advantages to expand business and employment opportunities in manufacturing, processing, and logistics across the state."
Amid this continuous improvement, ABW remains mindful of the work that it must do to retain and enhance its own competitive edge. "We focus on building relationships based on strategic fit and trust," Justice says. "We are family-owned, giving customers direct access to decision-makers. Our operational focus and approach is high engagement and low noise, meaning we focus on serving the customer first and doing what is right every time."
With everything the state has going for it, what’s next for Georgia? Justice sees more of the same, only better.
"The marketplace already views Georgia as the premier regional distribution hub for the Southeast, similar to how the Dallas and Chicago markets serve their respective regions," he says. "Georgia will start to take a more visible role in serving markets beyond the Southeast as technology advances and the competition to reduce supply chain costs pushes for simpler distribution models."
Hotlanta Means Business
"They used to say all roads lead to Chicago," says Jeff Lantz, founder and CEO of C.L. Services, Inc. (CLS). "Today we can safely say that about Atlanta."
CLS is an industry leader in providing over-the-road truckload transportation, intermodal, and drayage services, with additional offerings including warehousing and transloading. The company’s location near the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport serves as an ideal point to dispatch its technology into the field.
"Atlanta is the hub of the South," Lantz says. "We’re right in the middle of everything."
Atlanta’s position as a major redistribution hub has been a steady catalyst for company growth. "We have added assets in the form of trucks, something we thought we would never do," Lantz says. "We are finding more demand for drop trailers in and out of our area to service the southeastern states."
CLS co-owner Russ Caudell shares his business partner’s enthusiasm. "Aside from the obvious advantages of access to multiple interstate highway systems and close proximity to the ports of Savannah and Charleston, having access to a highly skilled workforce through the many colleges and universities is a definite advantage," he says. "Many of these institutions offer supply chain/logistics programs.
"C.L. Services contributes by recruiting the majority of our employees from these colleges and universities, thus creating new jobs and opportunities for our state," he adds.
The partners see only more opportunity ahead. "We are in a prime location to continue our growth," Caudell says. "With all that Atlanta and the surrounding areas have to offer, it is a great place for people to build their careers and raise their families. Our great weather and four distinct seasons make it ideal."
"I see us continuing to take advantage of the growth of inbound and outbound freight," says Lantz. "Our challenge is finding enough qualified people. We have a cultural standard and we do not want to just fill seats and provide mediocre service."
That emphasis on high standards has enabled the company to be an industry leader throughout its 23 years of service to the Georgia and Southeast markets.
"Whenever we are asked about our competitive advantage, the first thing that always comes to mind is our size," says Caudell. "While we are not the biggest in the industry by any means, we take pride in being accessible to all our customers and carriers alike. We show our contact information, including cell phone numbers, on all our business cards and web pages."
Lantz characterizes all members of the company’s team as "outside-the-box thinkers." The company’s character, along with the advantages of the hot Atlanta market, combine to create an exciting future for CLS and the state.
"We have lots of room to go up," says Caudell. "More and more, people and companies want to escape the weather north of Atlanta, the high taxes of the Northeast and other areas, and high crime rates that cripple other areas of the country.
"Georgia is a great place to come to," he adds. "The state offers a business-friendly environment."
For all of Georgia’s logistics advantages—from location to workforce to infrastructure—perhaps the state’s greatest advantage is its spirit of collaboration, cooperation, and communication.
"State government, the airport, local governments—they’re all in alignment," says Dennis Lombardi, director of strategic development for Romark Logistics.
He points to the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, as an example of the priority the state places on logistics.
The Center of Innovation for Logistics helps companies take advantage of the state’s world-class logistics sector, so that they can improve supply chain efficiencies, support growth, and increase global competitiveness. The Center connects companies to the technical industry expertise, collaborative research, and partnerships that cargo-owning companies need.
The Center regularly publishes "logistics market snapshots" to keep industry professionals abreast of important metrics. Using numbers provided by the Georgia Ports Authority, for example, a recent snapshot noted that the Port of Savannah moved 351,366 TEUs in December 2018, making it the busiest December in the GPA’s history. During calendar year 2018, the Port of Savannah moved 4.35 million TEUs, its highest annual volume ever and a 7.5-percent increase over 2017. Nine of the GPA’s 10 busiest months, in fact, were in 2018.
Lombardi views the Georgia state of mind from a broad perspective. Romark owns and manages more than 7 million square feet of office and industrial real estate throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, and California. In its nearly seven decades in the supply chain and logistics sectors, the company has diversified its operating business by acquiring some of the leading packaging, transportation, and warehousing companies in the United States and blending them into a strong and value-added business unit that operates today as the Romark family of companies. The company’s expertise extends to helping clients navigate the sometimes-challenging procurement and certification processes governments require.
The company started its Georgia operations with JTP Romark Logistics in Forest Park, just outside Atlanta, in 2015 and quickly established itself as a top provider of temperature-controlled facilities for the pharmaceutical industry.
"In total, we operate almost one million square feet of space in the Atlanta area and a mid-sized fleet of trucks, trailers, specialized equipment, and reefers," Lombardi says. "We are going in and out of the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport every day."
The airport, under the leadership of General Manager John Selden, has positioned the area for continued growth through constant air cargo capabilities and service improvements, Lombardi notes.
Further, Romark is enthusiastic about the hot Atlanta real estate market. The quality of the market enables Romark to act on its "real estate gene" by providing quality space to a host of affiliated companies. For example, "We are in the process of opening a second and larger Container Freight Station facility in Forest Park that will be fully operational by mid-April 2019," he says.
Romark’s ability to respond quickly to the opportunities that present themselves in Georgia is key to its success. "We are either a very small large company or a very large small company," he says. "We have all the advantages of size, but our corporate structure isn’t cumbersome. We can perform and compete with the largest third-party logistics (3PL) providers, but we offer personalized service always. That’s our slogan."
Lombardi views the rapid growth of the Georgia market as both an opportunity and a challenge. "Extreme growth must be managed in a measured way," he says. "You have to get it right the first time."
Both the company and the state embrace that formula for success. The result, Lombardi says, is that both can grow, adapt, and remain competitive in a constantly evolving and complex setting.
Located just half a mile from GPA’s Ocean Terminal and about 3.5 miles from the container port, JIT Warehousing & Logistics offers numerous services from the Port of Savannah. You might say the company puts the "inter" in intermodal, with more than two decades of experience in the import/export industry, offering shipside delivery and port pickup as well as container draying, shipping, stuffing, crossdock, and a division that handles overdimensional freight.
JIT operates facilities on both the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines. The company’s Savannah warehouse facilities consist of more than 850,000 square feet of covered storage and an additional five acres of outside storage. JIT operates throughout the United States and handles numerous commodities including metal products, paper, wood products, and palletized cargo.
"Port-to-track" capabilities loom large in the company leadership’s view of Georgia’s significant logistics assets. Evelyn Goldberg-Davis, executive vice president, enumerates these assets, including: "The amount of land available for logistics use, enhanced by increased rail and inland railports. Beyond that, the continued building of warehouses in Savannah and nearby areas, and the opening of large fulfillment centers from Savannah to Atlanta."
"We are opening up new rail spurs," adds her father, company president Ben Goldberg. "If you build it, they will come, and Georgia is a great example of this."
Goldberg makes his assessment from the vantage point of 31 years in the logistics business. He opened JIT (Just In Time) in 1998, and now the family’s second generation is moving the company forward.
Daughter Anna Lockwood serves as vice president, and her husband, Trevor Lockwood, who has been with the company for 12 years, functions as vice president of project cargo. In that capacity he oversees the company’s overdimensional division, which includes road escort, rigging, and additional trailers for heavy haul.
This leadership team sees the variety of services JIT offers as one of its greatest advantages. "We have the equipment and capacity to handle a multitude of cargo," says Goldberg-Davis. "Due to our variety of capabilities, many of the lines and entities that work alongside the GPA call us first when they have to solve a problem."
She is likewise bullish on the state’s overall logistics prospects. "We have the population and available land to continue to outpace other port areas in growth," she notes.
The company leaders also believe Georgia will become an even bigger player in the logistics marketplace over the years to come. "The more businesses decide to move their freight via Georgia ports, the more opportunity there is to fill new niches," says Goldberg.
As an example, the Savannah Port has now surpassed 4 million TEUs annually and expects to double that number in the next nine years.
A Package Deal
Georgia has the whole package, says Andrew Slusher, president and CEO of SMC³, an information systems provider for technology and manufacturing companies. "Georgia is truly a hub of transportation and logistics, not only in the Southeast region but nationally and globally," Slusher says. "In 2017, Deloitte ranked Atlanta as the number two city for digital supply chains, and Georgia was named Site Selection magazine’s top state for business in 2018. I can’t say enough about all the logistics assets that exist in Georgia.
"In terms of the major supply chain players, UPS, Saia, and other supply chain companies are currently headquartered in Atlanta, and a number of major Fortune 500 companies also call the city home," Slusher adds.
In particular, he cites the Hartsfield-Jackson-Atlanta International Airport and the Port of Savannah as the state’s premier advantages. "Shippers that route cargo through the port benefit from Georgia’s extensive supply chain infrastructure," he says.
SMC³ provides data for technology and manufacturing powerhouses around the country and beyond. Its client list includes Oracle, MercuryGate, McLeod Software, and SAP. The company maintains its headquarters in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City.
"We serve all the major logistics companies in the Atlanta area," Slusher says. "Our applications and software are utilized widely, especially in the LTL arena.
"A majority of all LTL shipments in the country move on the SMC³ CzarLite base rates," he notes. "It is the industry’s leading base rate, and we have different means of delivering that data through our RateWare XL and CarrierConnect XL solutions.
"Beyond that, we recently brought other solutions into the mix," he adds. "SMC³’s Cost Intelligence System is extensively used in the LTL industry, and is gaining a larger footprint in the truckload industry as a tool trucking companies use to manage decisions around carrier pricing and network optimization."
The company also has modernized the platform for its LTL procurement solution, Bid$ense. "We now offer a subscription-based service for that product, which is a new twist for 3PLs and logistics companies that have multiple bids throughout the year," Slusher says. "It’s more of a self-service tool than it once was." SMC³ will be rolling out truckload procurement functionality within the Bid$ense tool later in 2019.
The evolution of technology in logistics continues at a rapid pace. One of the biggest changes in logistics technology centers on data delivery. In the past, a significant amount of information was delivered via electronic data interchange (EDI), which remains the predominant method of transmitting information throughout the industry.
But, Slusher says, "APIs (application programming interfaces) are in play now, and SMC3 has its own suite of solutions up and running for delivering transit time information, visibility, and rating. We’re also moving toward a dynamic pricing environment, with volume LTL our first foray into that.
"We are on the move with delivering solutions that leverage the latest technologies in the industry and broadening the portfolio of solutions that we offer customers," he says.
And the control center for all this progress will be Georgia. "SMC³ will remain front and center as Georgia’s role in logistics evolves," he says.
Positioned for Growth
When enumerating Georgia’s logistics advantages, Syfan Logistics CEO Jim Syfan cites its breadth of transportation infrastructure.
"Through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the deepwater ports in Savannah and Brunswick, there is a high availability of freight in Georgia," he says. "Four interstate highways and an intricate state highway system make moving freight anywhere inside and outside the state easy. Also, the state has nearly 5,000 miles of railway tracks to move freight. This combination of transportation avenues makes Georgia a major market for intermodal service."
Syfan Logistics, which is well- recognized as an expert in delivering deadline-sensitive, perishable food products, is strategically located to take advantage of the airport in Atlanta and the ports in Savannah and Brunswick, as well as the major rail and highway systems. The company is located in Gainesville, just north of Atlanta.
With its strategic location and access to major transportation corridors, Syfan Logistics works extensively with the nation’s largest foodstuffs companies in the poultry, seafood, confectionery, cereal, and soft drinks industries.
The company also serves the largest package-delivery companies in the world, along with all expedited divisions of America’s major automotive manufacturers. Syfan Logistics has been recognized as one of UPS’s top partners during Christmas seasons. Inbound Logistics has named Syfan as one of the Top 100 Logistics Companies in the United States for the past five years.
Syfan is confident that the state’s long history of leadership in the logistics marketplace will continue well into the future. "Georgia has been the number one state to do business with for years," he notes. "Georgia has the infrastructure, industries, and planning process to grow infrastructure to allow new companies to locate to the state."
He is similarly confident in the leadership of the company that bears his family’s name. The company started in the poultry business where company leaders learned the importance of communication and delivering on time. Syfan Logistics was established in 2011, and Jim Syfan now operates the company with sons Greg and Steve.
Syfan Logistics owns its own fleet of Syfan Transport trucks. It recently added several new Peterbilts to that fleet. Syfan Transport hauls a broad range of products with an expertise in food, auto parts, and package shipments. The company has set up teams under each category to meet its customers’ needs.
"We complete loads seamlessly," Syfan says. "Communication, accessibility, and open transparency are characteristics that Syfan customers can count on."
Underlining the point, the company’s newest advertising campaign states: "Service and delivery so seamless, we might as well be invisible."
Syfan believes the most important logistics development in Georgia over the next two years will be the addition of two inland ports, bringing the total to three in all. One of the two new ports will be located in Gainesville, where Syfan Logistics is based. The Northeast Georgia Inland Port will link to Savannah by rail and is expected to be completed in 2021.
Northeast Georgia Inland Port is located less than 10 miles from Syfan headquarters and will offer additional business opportunities for logistics companies in the area.
It will be the new shipping hub for millions of tons of goods set to be imported or exported through Savannah. Officials estimate the inland port will eventually keep 150,000 trucks off the road each year.
The second new inland port will be located in Chatsworth in northwest Georgia. The state currently has one inland port in Cordele in southwest Georgia.
Syfan Logistics mirrors the state’s logistics growth. "We are completing a $3.5-million expansion at our headquarters that will add 19,000 square feet to our existing 12,000 square feet of offices," Syfan says. "We are currently at 351 employees and the expansion will allow us to add several hundred more employees in the coming years.
"Our company is growing and expanding," he says. "And we are extremely excited about the future of logistics growth in our marketplace."