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Deal: Port Expansion Is 1 Project With 2 Proven Benefits

As Washington looks for ways to create American jobs by increasing exports, the state of Georgia offers up the perfect project to accomplish these worthy goals. 

As America’s economy has evolved during the past several decades, we have followed a trend of consuming more and producing less. This trend troubles everyone, from economists and business executives to those working eight-hour shifts in Georgia’s rural mill towns.

There’s broad recognition that, absent change, this unsustainable pattern will catch up with us and negatively affect our collective future.

The economics are simple: In return for funding our deficit, other nations receive an IOU on our future.

However, in the face of a persistent and growing trade imbalance, there are bright spots.

Among those, the Port of Savannah is a shining star. For companies around the globe, it has become a gateway to U.S. markets and a launching pad for U.S. products.

In light of the trends referenced above, it is no small feat that those managing the Port of Savannah have built a trade mix that is decidedly export-first. In fact, exports there are accelerating, growing a full 12 percent in fiscal 2011 alone.   

Georgia ports have risen to prominence by partnering with U.S. companies seeking new markets for their products. Today, Georgia ports serve about 21,000 companies from all 50 states, more than 75 percent of which are headquartered outside Georgia. In all, this makes a shining success story about the emergence of a powerful export engine on Georgia’s coast.

But not all is well when it comes to our nation’s maritime infrastructure. The Port of Savannah faces a real threat if Congress fails to allow the Savannah Harbor and Expansion Project to go forward.

The Panama Canal is being enlarged, and when it comes online in 2014, it will provide Super Panamax ships convenient access to the East Coast, increasing efficiency and reducing costs for shippers. If Savannah is unable to move forward with a plan to deepen its relatively shallow harbor, costs will increase for U.S. exporters and a proven export engine will be severely undermined.

As President Barack Obama pointed out in his National Export Initiative, a vital part of renewed economic growth is the unfettered ability to move American exports onto the global market. While I enthusiastically support his goal to double exports over the next five years, I also know this requires taking real action to position for the future.     

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study has shown that the port deepening will reduce shipping costs for private companies by at least $100 million a year. The same study has proved the expenditure would be a wise investment of federal dollars, yielding a 4.6-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio.

What other investment offers an immediate return of $4.60 for every dollar invested?

Georgia will meet its $253 million share of the cost because this project provides a clear path to increased exports and jobs — both those that will be created and sustained through increased trade as well as those that will be created by the dredging expansion project itself.

This project, national in scope, epitomizes the “shovel-ready projects” for which Obama and Congress have shown support.

I am asking Congress to allocate the funds needed to complete the deepening and for Obama to approve it. While I support efforts to reduce our federal deficit, I am equally confident the path to fiscal prosperity includes reducing our trade deficit and this project will help us accomplish both objectives.

Updating vital infrastructure that supports jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness is not the place to find cost savings. In this new era of prioritization, this is exactly the type of export-boosting, jobs-creating project that should be at the top of our list. The question is this: Will Congress and the president support one of America’s great export engines? 

Nathan Deal (R) is the governor of Georgia.

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