Georgia: Where Logistics Fuels Growth
Georgia’s solid logistics infrastructure keeps supply chains moving efficiently and safely regardless of business disruption and national economic stress. These logistics providers and trade partners lead the way.
Despite the struggles of the national economy in a year many business leaders may want to forget, Georgia’s logistics engine continued to hum in 2020, illuminating the state’s assets and infrastructure.
That message emerges from a detailed report conducted as a collaborative effort between the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and Hickory Ridge Group LLC.
Titled "Georgia Leading the Way: The Logistics Workforce for the Future," the report characterizes Georgia’s supply chain and logistics sector as a powerful force for continued rapid economic growth.
The pandemic shined a spotlight on the critical nature of the sector, and the experiences of many of Georgia’s leading logistics services providers bear that out. As the nation learned, truck drivers and warehouse employees revealed themselves to be everyday heroes, making sure essential goods reached their destinations. And Georgia, long at the front and center of American logistics, showed that it has more than its fair share of such heroes.
The performance of Georgia’s logistics leaders in a time of crisis should come as no surprise. After all, Georgia’s prime location, along with its outstanding infrastructure and workforce, positions it as an industry leader and home to many of the most successful logistics providers in the world.
"The logistics industry has been and continues to be a dependable and substantial source of economic activity, growth, and employment in the state, driving Georgia’s economy forward," the joint report states. "Further, Georgia’s logistics benefits urban and highly developed parts of the state while also providing the means for rural areas to diversify their economic base, reducing local economic vulnerability."
In analyzing the logistics sector in Georgia, industries that move and store cargo, along with their supporting services and operations, were taken into account and provided a compelling picture of vitality:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is a major world port for air cargo. The airport is the 10th-busiest U.S. airport for total air freight tonnage, and nine of the top 10 cargo airlines in the world operate there. The airport has international service within North America and to South America, Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
- The Port of Savannah is home to the largest single container terminal in North America, and is the fastest-growing and third-busiest container port in the United States.
- The Port of Brunswick is the No. 1 terminal in the nation for new automobile imports. Seven of the most prominent multinational automobile manufacturers and 18 leading automobile trucking line companies maintain offices at its Colonel Island Terminal.
- Inland portsserve as additional indispensable assets. The Appalachian Regional Port and the Northeast Georgia Inland Port, to be completed in 2023, boost the use of rail cargo transportation, reducing congestion on Georgia’s highways and lowering transportation costs for companies moving supplies within the state.
- Georgia is served by both Eastern U.S. Class I railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, along with 24 short-line railroads. These rail providers travel on 5,000 miles of track, moving nearly 200 million tons of cargo each year. Georgia’s railroads work hand-in-hand with its seaports, and the $126.7-million Mason Mega Rail Terminal Project now underway will improve the efficiency of both.
As an international gateway to the United States, Hartsfield-Jackson ranks seventh in international passenger traffic. The airport is a major hub for travel in the southeastern region of the country.
- Six U.S. interstates—1,200 miles of highway—connect shippers to 80% of the country in two days or less of driving time.
Innovation promises to fuel even more logistics success in Georgia. "The increased growth and economic impact of logistics efforts in Georgia, in addition to the challenges faced by businesses nowadays regarding demand uncertainty, provide a promising future for people working in the areas of logistics, big data, and supply chain analytics as there is a clear need for innovation," the report states.
"The logistics and supply chain sector carries a valuable weight for Georgia’s growth and future projections," the report concludes.
Calling Georgia "an influential state for the logistics industry," the report says, "the demand for logistics has continued to grow throughout the years as the state’s economic growth highly depends on this sector, benefiting not only urban but also rural areas. Georgia’s logistics and supply chain sector outpaces many other sectors in the state with regards to economic growth and stability."
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught organizations of all types—from businesses to schools to governments to healthcare facilities—all manner of lessons about adaptation and change.
SMC³, a leading provider of logistics intelligence solutions for North America, has remained fully operational throughout the health crisis.
Among other things, the company—which maintains its headquarters in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City—has experienced the value of speed. "Fortunately, the company was able to quickly and seamlessly transition to a remote work environment, utilizing new technologies, and we have remained available to continue to serve our customers and the industry at large," says Brian Thompson, chief commercial officer of SMC³.
For the first time, Thompson says, the supply chain sector witnessed firsthand how the optimal mix of digital tools could help companies seamlessly navigate market volatility—increasing efficiency, reducing dwell times, and allowing carriers, shippers, and end customers to all have the end-to-end visibility they need.
Driving Deeper Synergies
"Now, as the pandemic subsides, this shouldn’t be where the digital transformation story ends," he says. "Overnight, technology implementations adapted to provide short-term solutions, but many of these came in the form of quick fixes and point solutions. For their users, these disconnected tools left some efficiency and productivity gains on the table in favor of quicker implementations."
The next step, he says, is to take the lessons learned over the past year to review existing technology, identify remaining blind spots, and install integrations to create more powerful, end-to-end technology solutions.
In other words, the new challenge that supply chain companies face is connecting their disparate technologies together to drive deeper synergies across their entire business.
SMC³ excels at solving such difficult challenges, says Thompson. "The company’s consultative solutions deliver the technology framework to help shippers, logistics providers, and carriers get the most out of their TMS and technology platforms—including rating and quoting, provider selection, bid procurement, and freight selection across the entire shipping lifecycle," he explains.
Thompson says SMC³ will remain at the forefront of innovation as Georgia’s role in logistics evolves. "A number of logistics companies are headquartered in Atlanta and throughout the state, with major players like Nestle and Amazon also in the process of building additional facilities in Georgia," he says. "This migration to the logistics hub of the Southeast will only continue."
A Need Not a Want
Because of the pandemic, complete shipment visibility is no longer a want but a need.
SMC³’s complete suite of LTL APIs (application programming interfaces) allows freight transportation stakeholders to digitize the entire shipment lifecycle from quote to delivery, enabling an agile supply chain.
Also, in its support of the logistics sector, SMC³ offers educational services through semi-annual conferences and online, on-demand coursework focused on LTL training. It is also the first program in the industry to offer a path to LTL certification.
"There’s a void in the industry for education," Thompson says, "and it is SMC³’s mission to fill that gap by providing intensive, thoughtful educational experiences to teach the next generation of supply chain leaders how the industry functions."
Partners in Progress
In the world of logistics, remaining at the cutting edge is not a solo journey. You stay at the front of the pack by relying on partners who help and support you all along the way.
In Georgia, a primary partner in progress is the government. "The state works hard to attract and keep businesses," says Steve Syfan, executive vice president of Syfan Logistics, a full-scale, asset-based logistics management company and a well-recognized logistics leader in the Peach State.
"Georgia’s pro-business efforts have brought a wide variety of top domestic and international companies to the state—which is beneficial to the logistics industry," Syfan says.
Georgia is adding two inland ports (for a total of three) to connect directly to Savannah’s deepwater port. One of the new inland ports will be located in Gainesville, where Syfan is based, some 55 miles north of Atlanta on I-85. The inland ports will connect by rail to Savannah and will greatly improve the ease and efficiency of shipping in the state.
"The state of Georgia has all the pieces in place to remain a key player in the evolving logistics marketplace," Syfan adds. "With a major international airport in Atlanta, deepwater ports in Savannah and Brunswick, interstate highways connecting major cities, an expansive state highway system, and extensive rail system, the state is positioned well to have a prominent role in the country’s logistics marketplace."
Syfan says his company answered the pandemic’s challenges by remaining steadfast to its core principles of care and concern for each shipment and by enhancing safety protocols.
"We’ve worked diligently to keep our team, drivers, and customers safe," he says. "We modified protocols for human contact at our office and with our customers—shippers and receivers—while still reaching out safely every way possible to maintain our sales relationships that have made us successful partners."
Early in the pandemic, Syfan Logistics started an initiative to keep its drivers in their trucks whenever possible during pick-up or drop-off to reduce the potential for spreading the virus.
The company also established a Critical Express Team with one of its key shipping partners to be ready to respond around the clock to emergency shipping needs.
What’s on the Menu?
Syfan Logistics offers a full menu of services for customers, including over-the-road transport, expedited, third-party logistics, power only, yard management support, freight management services, and project management.
"We work to find creative ways to serve our customers," Syfan says. "With increased demand for shipping in the past year, we are blessed to grow our team by more than 60% recently.
"We have continued to hire and are finding very qualified people to fill the demands from our customers," he adds. "We have invested in technology that provides better internal performance metrics, better communication, and greater visibility, transparency, to all of our customers."
Syfan is decidedly bullish on the future of logistics in Georgia and Syfan Logistics’ place in it.
"The inland port here in Gainesville will help reduce traffic through Atlanta and to Savannah; however it will be both good and difficult for our community with an estimated increase of 300-400 trucks on I-985 per day," he says. "With the right amount of added infrastructure of overpasses and elimination of side streets for safety, it can be a big plus for our community."
Logic dictates unpredictable situations require unpredictable solutions. Yet it is at times of sudden change that experience often counts most. When the pandemic struck, experience proved to be a competitive advantage for Atlanta Bonded Warehouse (ABW), the Southeast’s longtime leading provider of temperature-controlled warehousing and LTL/TL transportation services.
The 73-year-old company called on well-established relationships with customers, employees, and partners to weather the pandemic and develop solutions for any problems that emerged. "We came out just fine," says Hal Justice, ABW’s vice president of sales and operations.
Logistics challenges brought about by the pandemic required nimbleness, particularly in April and May 2020 when there was an "incredible volume of outbound movement," Justice says, as retailers responded to massive demand.
The company’s proximity to Georgia’s interstate network and the Port of Savannah served it well through the crisis. While the pressure has begun to ease, the port continues to be "absolutely slammed" with volume, Justice says.
"The port is going gangbusters," he says, adding that a worldwide container shortage has posed additional challenges.
For ABW, however, increased volume represents business as usual. "We had a record year in co-packing," Justice says. "But actually we’ve been up about 25% each year for the past five years."
The result of the company’s familiarity with ever-increasing demand is that ABW didn’t miss a beat during even the worst days of the pandemic.
Looking forward, Justice says he sees nothing that will interfere with continued steady growth in Georgia. He notes labor demands require constant innovation and automation so that people power can be applied to challenges requiring skills more than muscle.
"We want our people to add value rather than perform routine tasks," Justice says.
From Confection to Perfection
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 facilities. ABW has received numerous awards for operational excellence.
In the realm of value-added, freight consolidation, and cross-docking services, the company offers consolidated order picking for bulk pool shipments, labeling, repacking, and co-packing.
ABW distributes to every major retailer on a scheduled weekly basis for the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest, and Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains.
ABW’s main metro Atlanta campus is in Kennesaw, convenient to major interstate highways and served by CSX rail. The company takes full advantage of Georgia’s logistics assets, which Justice says 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.
Justice is upbeat on Georgia’s place in the logistics landscape and ABW’s sweet spot in metropolitan Atlanta. "Metro Atlanta will continue to be a very desirable location," he says. "The port will continue to grow, and we see nothing that will slow any of that down."
Full Speed Ahead
Prominent among the essential keys to the resilience and strength of the Georgia logistics infrastructure is the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), whose mission is "to empower entrepreneurs, strengthen industries, sustain communities, and fortify families by relentlessly striving to accelerate global commerce."
The organization is committed to maintaining the state’s competitive edge through development of leading-edge technology, marketing, and operations to move cargo faster. In addition, the GPA works to identify what must be done today to sustain growth, performance, and security for tomorrow.
"Part of our job at Georgia’s ports is to not only stay ahead of the growth curve, but also to identify and focus on new market opportunities," says Griff Lynch, executive director.
Testimony to that commitment is found in the fact that GPA moved more than 4.68 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) container units in 2020, up more than 1.8% over its 2019 total of 4.59 million. Total cargo crossing all docks in 2020 reached 38.4 million tons.
Coming through the challenges of 2020 with modest growth was "a major accomplishment for Georgia’s ports and our partners through the private logistics community," says Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. "With unmatched terminal operations, superior road and rail connections, and reliable third-party service providers, there are no better run ports in the nation."
The Port of Savannah achieved its busiest December in 2020, moving 447,525 TEUs, an increase of 24% compared to December 2019. Total cargo crossing all docks reached 3.33 million tons in December, up 12.5%. Rail volumes for the month grew 16.4%, or approximately 10,900 TEUs, for a total of 77,230.
"Savannah’s capacity to take on additional trade as well as its diversified cargo portfolio—including e-commerce and strong export markets—helped to drive business gains," says Lynch.
"Additionally, a housing boom has translated into strong demand for furniture, appliances, and other home goods crossing our docks," he says. "We remain optimistic that the conditions for growth will continue."
During a time when manufacturers around the world were shuttering plants, Georgia exports held steady over the 2020 calendar year, at 2.3 million TEUs. Food, forest products, cotton, clay, automotive goods, and chemicals led export container volumes. The Port of Savannah maintained a near-even trade balance of 51% import and 49% export, rare for the industry.
"Efficient global connections make export goods more competitive on international markets, and as our 37 weekly vessel calls show, shipping lines are drawn to ports with balanced trade," says GP Board Chairman Will McKnight. "By supporting small businesses and major industries, our terminals are key to attracting and retaining good jobs for Georgians."
Another bright spot for 2020 was the Appalachian Regional Port (ARP), which handled 59,000 TEUs in 2020, up by 25,000 or 73% from the previous year. "More customers are seeing the benefit of moving cargo by rail to the ARP, then using shorter truck routes to nearby portions of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama," Lynch says.
"Even during the pandemic, we’ve seen successes such as expanding trade with Memphis customers," McKnight says. "As a major intermodal center, Memphis is a key market for expansion of Savannah’s rail service."
Georgia’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support nearly 500,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $29 billion in income, $122 billion in revenue, and $3.4 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy.
Sorting It Out
Georgia’s logistics assets extend to solutions designed to sort out the myriad billing and accounting processes related to shipping.
Based in McDonough, Georgia, some 30 miles from Atlanta, nVision Global Technology Solutions offers a multitude of solutions for shippers around the globe.
The company specializes in providing global freight invoice audit, payment, and transportation spend management services for customers worldwide. It partners with multinational corporations to reduce their overall costs by providing a global, single outsourced solution to efficiently process, audit, and pay all transportation-related invoices.
Since its founding in 1992, the company has become a leading expert in managing invoices for all transportation modes and services throughout the world, in any currency and in most languages.
Its Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant solutions allow organizations to access nVision Global’s broad experience and technology that have taken the company from a regional freight audit and payment service provider to its current role as the leading global provider of invoice audit, payment, and transportation spend management services.
"Our customers have come to rely on our prompt and accurate freight audit and payment services, as well as our leading-edge transportation spend management analytical tools to help them manage their overall transportation costs," says Keith Snavely, senior vice president, global sales and marketing.
Services include freight invoice audits, transportation management, business intelligence, contract management, claims management, and benchmarking.
"As a global freight audit, payment, and logistics information management services provider, nVision Global relies heavily on Georgia’s large IT and logistics talent pool to strengthen our core offerings, allowing us to provide leading-edge products and services to our global customer base," says Snavely. "nVision Global as well as our customers benefit greatly from Georgia’s vast logistics hub, which allows nVision Global a truly global solution."
The company has developed a service for customers who don’t necessarily want a full-scale TMS or freight audit solution, but are interested in storing their negotiated pricing rates in a secure location and being able to rate shop potential shipments against these rates.
The solution is available to customers who wish to maintain their rates themselves, or as a managed service, whereby they send their rates to nVision Global, which formats and loads them into a secure database.
Once these rates are loaded, they are available to customers for rate shop purposes, as well as downloading for personal storage. Rates are available only to those associates to whom the customer provides access, ensuring rates are 100% secure.
Benefits of nVision Global’s Contract Management service are wide-ranging and different for each customer. Some customers utilize this service as only a secure location to store their pricing rates for easy retrieval, while others use it as a means to determine the proper transportation provider for all their shipments.
nVision processes $6.1 billion in invoices per year—yet another testimony to the range and volume of Georgia’s vast impact in the world of logistics.