Georgia signs agreement to expand vehicle import/export port

The Georgia Ports Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers have signed an agreement to expand the Port of Brunswick, a move state officials said will help prepare the port for expansion.

The agreement, announced Monday, clears the way for the Corps to begin dredging and widening certain sections of the port to accommodate larger vessels and shipments rolling onto and off of cargo ships.

“The channel improvements will allow ocean carriers to serve the Port of Brunswick with greater safety and efficiency,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, at a press conference Monday.

The price tag on the project is $17 million, two-thirds of which will be covered by the Corps.

The deal comes as part of a larger $247 million redevelopment for the port in which planners kept a keen eye on Georgia’s growing automotive industry, proposing several projects in the development plan that would help to “meet the needs” of current and future automakers operating in the state, Lynch said.

That includes a new Hyundai plant nearby expected to churn out 500,000 vehicles a year as well as a commitment from Nissan to make the port one of its primary import points for cars coming into the North American market.

The Port of Brunswick, about halfway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida on Interstate 95, is already a major port for roll on/roll off ships, handling more than 600,000 vehicles a year, according to data attached to a recent Georgia Ports Authority bond official statement.

Georgia and the wider U.S. Southeast have rapidly become a top destination for major automakers and electric vehicle companies. Drawn in by state and federal incentives as well as the cheap land and anti-organized labor state governments in the region, major companies have set up shop, building out extensive production and distribution networks in the to tap the wider North American market.

The Port of Savanah, the state’s busiest port, is also undergoing redevelopment and expansion, with $1 billion spent over the last seven years there.

The Ports Authority is financing both projects in part with revenue bonds. In July, the Authority sold $769 million in revenue bonds for the project that were rated Aa2 with stable outlook by Moody’s.

In their decision analyst cited the “robust debt service coverage ratios,” “favorable governance linkage with the state,” and the port’s “substantial market position, as a nationally significant gateway port with increasing scale and improving infrastructure capability.”

Trade through Georgia’s ports generates $7.4 billion in federal taxes, $2 billion in state taxes, and $1.8 billion in local taxes annually, according to the Ports Authority.

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