Savannah develops impressive port-centric logistics cluster


A delegation from the Port of Montreal was in Savannah, Georgia, in June to see first-hand its industrial cluster. It is thanks in great part to this cluster that the Port of Savannah has become the main cargo gateway in the U.S. Southeast and the second-largest container port on the U.S. East Coast.

The Port of Savannah has taken huge strides over the past quarter century to develop logistics zones adjacent to its territory, creating an impressive port-centric logistics cluster. The cluster’s development was based on a well-defined logistics strategy: create logistics parks close to port facilities for mass distribution of imported goods moving through the port. The large volume of containers emptied at nearby distribution centres would in turn represent enviable opportunities for the local export market, while ensuring balanced traffic and full vessels.

Combined with major infrastructure investments at the port, the strategy met with rapid success. The establishment of the Crossroads Business Park in 1988 led to the opening of other logistics zones within a 25-mile radius of the port.

Today, Savannah is a veritable logistics cluster, featuring a total of more than 21,800 acres divided over a multitude of sites. About 70 percent of those sites are public and 30 percent are private.

The Savannah logistics cluster has attracted big-box retailers the likes of Dollar Tree, Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe’s, Pier 1 and Target. The region boasts the highest concentration of import distribution centres in the U.S. southeast. In fact, more than 250 distribution centres now rely on the port. This success has translated into more shipping services through Savannah.

A one-stop shopping source offers a complete suite of free services covering project management, engineering,
3D graphic design, cartography, site planning, demographic analysis and transportation cost analysis,
and labour requirements. (Photo : Stephen B. Morton)

In turn, the Port of Savannah has become the main cargo gateway in the U.S. Southeast and the second-largest container port on the U.S. East Coast. Its container volume has increased sixfold in the past 24 years, to more than 3 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) in 2013 from 500,000 TEUs in 1990. The port has also achieved a much better traffic balance; 47 percent of its containerized cargo is imported and 53 percent is exported.

Success factors

“Several factors have led to the success of Savannah’s logistics cluster,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. “The first is location. The Port of Savannah is 100 miles closer to the city of Atlanta than any other port in the nation. This metro area of more than four million residents constitutes an important retail market. Further, as a longtime rail hub, Atlanta remains an important logistical centre for reaching the Southeast and beyond, and for bringing exports to the coast.”

Besides its proximity to Atlanta, the Port of Savannah benefits from strong road and rail connections. Interstates 95 and 16 converge at a point approximately five miles from the port. “No other port on the U.S. East Coast offers such direct interstate connections,” Mr. Foltz said. “What’s more, because the riverside port is actually located west of the city of Savannah, trucks are not encumbered by city traffic.”

Additionally, the Port of Savannah is served by two Class I railroads: Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. “We have the fastest westward transit times in the South Atlantic region, including overnight service to a five-state area – Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina,” Mr. Foltz said.

On the port side, Savannah’s 38 weekly containership services, supported by the largest single-operator terminal in the nation at 1,200 acres, provide fast, easy connections to global markets.

“These factors have drawn commerce to the Port of Savannah,” Mr. Foltz said. “This realization among the logistics managers of major U.S. retail outlets led these companies to establish distribution centres in Georgia – chiefly in the Savannah and Atlanta metro areas.”

Public as well as private

There are a variety of models within the Savannah logistics cluster. The public sector Savannah Economic Development Authority is responsible for the land and marketing at the Crossroads Business Park, which is managed by the not-for-profit Crossroads Owners Association. The park is home to Dollar Tree, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Pier 1.

At the Savannah River International Trade Park, the Georgia Ports Authority is responsible for developing land that belongs to the port. It works to attract major port clients such as Ikea and Target, which have built their own distribution centres at the park.

The Crossgate Industrial Park is developed and managed entirely by private interests.

Within the cluster, a concerted governance model involving academic, business and civil communities, industries, federal and state agencies, and transportation companies offers a clear and constantly evolving value proposition to clients and potential clients.

Free services to clients

"All facets of the logistics industry work in conjunction in
Georgia, providing a superior customer experience", says
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
(Photo : Stephen B. Morton)


The many partners that promote the logistics sector in the region work on a framework based on collaboration, strong developmental tools and an approach geared toward client service and problem solving. Among these partners are:

  • Georgia Allies, a public-private partnership that creates targeted programs that promote the state’s business development efforts and works to enhance Georgia’s business climate;
  • Select Georgia, a developmental tool that helps companies identify potential sites; and
  • The Georgia Resource Center, a one-stop shopping source that offers a complete suite of free services covering project management, engineering, 3D graphic design, cartography, site planning, demographic analysis, transportation cost analysis and labour requirements.

The cluster also benefits from initiatives such as Quick Start, which provides customized workforce training free-of-charge to qualified new and existing businesses, advantageous ‘Right to Work’ labour regulations, a multitude of fiscal measures and Savannah’s foreign-trade zone. 

Common interests and one voice

Port of Montreal president and CEO Sylvie Vachon and vice-president of strategy and human resources Serge Auclair, and Mathieu Charbonneau, executive director of CargoM, the Logistics and Transportation Metropolitan Cluster of Montreal, were part of a trade mission from Quebec that visited Savannah at the beginning of June.

“What struck me was the community of vision and values shared by all of the stakeholders in the Savannah logistics cluster,” Ms. Vachon said. “They mobilize around common interests and speak with once voice.”

“It’s a community of collaboration,” agreed Mr. Charbonneau. “The stakeholders understand the concept of the cluster and that the spinoffs they derive by working together will benefit everyone in the long run.”

Mr. Charbonneau added that one of the keys to the cluster’s success is “generational thinking.” “The players think long term – 20 years ahead – and plan accordingly,” he said.

“A focus on customer service is the force that binds our logistics cluster into a cohesive unit,” Mr. Foltz said. “All facets of the logistics industry – warehousing, trucking, rail and on-port interests – work in conjunction in Georgia, providing a superior customer experience.”

The Georgia Ports Authority has also hosted visitors from other Canadian ports, as well as representatives from Tacoma, Wash., Mobile, Ala., Wilmington, N.C., and Norfolk, Va., to view its logistics cluster model.

“We are willing to share our experience, because we understand the importance of North America’s supply and logistics chain,” Mr. Foltz said. “Our job is to provide the best possible services to the customer and the consumer, which requires sharing best practices.”