Apr 09

 

ICYMI: The most recent segment of the AJC's "Port Wars" series outlines the vastly important role that the Port of Savannah plays for Georgia's economy, making our push for federal funding one in which we can't afford to lose. READ MORE

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A full-page color photo of a container ship appears immediately after Gov. Nathan Deal’s introductory letter in the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative’s final report. 

That’s no surprise, given the significance of the Port of Savannah to Georgia’s economy. And with the back and forth of international trade, ports are big players for states blessed with oceanfront real estate.

Which makes the ongoing health of Savannah’s port worth fighting for as politicians and port officials nationwide seek federal funding for improvements to accommodate larger ships.

More to the point, in the absence of a national strategy governing how Washington divvies up taxpayer dollars to pay for work on U.S. ports, Georgia has no rational choice but to keep rowing toward full funding of the $650 million deepening project to keep Savannah competitive. It’s every state, and port, for itself until this nation gets better metrics to judge competing projects.

We’ve got a strong story to tell Washington, and we must keep repeating it to all who will listen. Savannah’s harbor ranks fourth in the nation in the number of shipping containers handled in 2011. That’s impressive, considering the marine terminal sits 30-plus miles upriver from open ocean.

Georgia’s other strong commercial advantages have helped make the long sail up the Savannah River worthwhile for shipping companies. Atlanta played a large part in creating that attractive business climate, given its status as a business and logistics nexus.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s 2010-2050 freight logistics plan puts it this way: “The Port of Savannah is a critical facilitator of international trade. It provides access to global customers for companies based in Georgia. It also provides internationally produced goods to the shelves of stores across the state.”

And a 2010 report by the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth cites the $61.7 billion in economic impact of the state’s ports and the 295,443 full- and part-time jobs “supported” by their operation.

Those kinds of numbers are what led fiscally conservative Gov. Deal to speak of the federal government’s responsibility in the AJC’s “Port Wars” series last week. “We just have to hold the federal government accountable so they live up to their obligation,” he said. Deal is correct in that it would be preferable for Washington to come up with the $400 million Georgia says is needed.

The governor is wise also to say he’s working on other options in case the sought-after money doesn’t head to Georgia. A think-tank expert writing last week in the AJC mentioned a public-private funding scenario for the Savannah work, an option that’s being used elsewhere. Whatever gets this needed job done in a cost-effective way is worth consideration.

While the Savannah River deepening and port improvements have garnered most of the attention, Southerners should also keep in mind the proposed joint project by South Carolina and Georgia to develop a new port in Jasper County. In our view, both states would best serve their respective economic interests and those of the greater Southeast by continuing to focus on this collaborative project intended to help meet expected demand for port services through 2050.

Both states working together on the port proposed for Jasper should help the Southeast compete against other regions vying to host the larger ships now being built.

Between the public and private sectors, Georgia should get this work done. There’s always uncertainty and ambiguity in economic development, as in life. Businesses bet a dollar today in expectation of earning more than that down the road. Smart governments do the same thing, as they work to stay ahead of, or at least abreast with, infrastructure needs. When that’s done well, it’s called investment. When done poorly, it’s a boondoggle.

With the advantages offered by Georgia and its ports, investments therein won’t fall into the latter category, we believe.

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Mar 14

 

Thanks to Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson for using her time at the White House to stress the importance of deepening the Savannah Harbor. The overall support leads us closer to securing more jobs for Georgians and the entire region. READ MORE 

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — The mayor of Savannah got a chance to lobby President Barack Obama for his support on deepening the waterway to the city's booming seaport.

Mayor Edna Jackson was among 14 U.S. city leaders who met with the president at the White House on Monday. She said Obama gave each of them one minute to tell him about pressing issues back home. Jackson used her time to plug the $600 million port expansion.

"I told him about the importance of the deepening of the harbor because we're 25 percent below the poverty level in Savannah. It's all about job creation in our community," Jackson said Tuesday in a phone interview from Washington, where she and other mayors were attending a conference of the National League of Cities.

Like other East Coast states, Georgia is scrambling for federal funding and permits to deepen the Savannah River by 6 feet to accommodate supersized cargo ships expected to arrive via the Panama Canal once it finishes a major expansion in 2014. Savannah has the nation's fourth busiest container port, but officials fear losing business if its shipping channel remains too shallow.

The mayor said she couldn't remember Obama's exact response, but she found him to be supportive overall.

"He was quite aware of the harbor deepening and he also realized this is not just affecting Savannah, but all of Georgia," Jackson said.

Obama included $2.8 million for the Savannah harbor expansion in his proposed budget last month, and he helped secure $600,000 in federal funding last year.

Still, that's far from the $105 million from Washington that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and port officials have sought to fund the first year of construction. Deal has made expanding the Savannah harbor a top priority for improving Georgia's economy. Overall, port officials need about $360 million in federal funds, with the state paying for the rest.

"The governor thinks that Mayor Jackson used her one minute with the president effectively and served her constituents well," said Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson. "We've heard the transportation secretary discuss his support for the project, and it's great to hear that the president agrees with that."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Savannah's port last November and gave the harbor deepening one of its biggest endorsements, saying simply: "It has to happen."

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Mar 13

 

As she shows in her op-ed, Mary Jo Peed of Everybody Wins! Atlanta is committed to our conserted effort to ensure that Georgia's children are able to read at grade level by the completion of the 3rd grade. Thank you, Mary Jo, for your dedication to this important cause! READ MORE

 

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In his recent State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal announced his goal of increasing the percentage of children reading at grade level by the third grade. He detailed a plan to implement a statewide reading mentors program and will seek $1.6 million from next year’s budget, saying, “When we fail to invest in our youngest students, we are forced to spend money on remediation for the rest of their academic careers.”

At Everybody Wins! Atlanta (www.everybodywinsatlanta.org), we applaud Gov. Deal for focusing on the importance of early intervention for building reading skills and a life-long love of reading. It’s what our volunteer mentors have been doing here in metro Atlanta for the past 14 years. Our organization is a local affiliate of a national non-profit that pairs elementary school students at risk for academic failure with mentors who spend one-on-one time reading with them for one hour each week for an entire school year.

The need for reading improvement in our state is great. When fourth graders were compared nationally for proficient reading performance in 2009, Georgia ranked third from last according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). As local students continue to fall behind their national peers in reading, the “achievement gap” grows. Critics of the Governor’s plan have said that the $1.6 million targeted is inadequate to make a substantial difference. It will be up to volunteer programs like Everybody Wins! Atlanta and other organizations to help bridge the gap, and provide additional reading assistance at little or no cost to the school systems.

During the 2010-11 school year, Everybody Wins! Atlanta reached more than 2,300 students in 13 Title I schools across metropolitan Atlanta. More than 7,000 books were distributed to program youth, many of whom may have little or no access to reading materials at home.

But statistics do not tell the entire story. Mentoring a child with reading is a rewarding, personal experience. I signed up as an Everybody Wins! Atlanta mentor over five years ago. The ease of the volunteer experience was extremely attractive to me as a busy attorney. Plus, as a former teacher, a lover of books, and a mother who instilled a love of reading into my children, I knew that even an hour a week could make a tremendous difference in a child’s life.

Each year, I have formed a bond with the child assigned to me, and I know our reading time is important to them, too. In fact, in all of my years of volunteering with Power Lunch, I have never had a child miss one of our scheduled reading times. Not once.

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