Last year, The NutraSweet Co. in Augusta shipped about half of its sales through the Port of Savannah to customers worldwide.
“The majority was exported to Asia, but we also export to Europe, Africa, Australia and Central and South America,” said company president Bill DeFer. “We ship several hundred orders each year through Savannah, so the port is very important to our business. We ship to Canada and Mexico also, but that is delivered by truck. The rest of the world has a sweet tooth, too.”
NutraSweet, at 1762 Lovers Lane, sends NutraSweet brand aspartame, other sweeteners and amino acid food ingredients manufactured at the plant by truck to the port. Occasionally, the company must ship items by truck to ports in Long Beach, Calif., or Charleston, S.C., DeFer said.
“The only reason that we’d go to one of those other ports, frankly, is availability. As a business that is heavily export-reliant, we’d love to see the Port of Savannah thrive and the harbor deepened. It would increase the availability of ships for us,” DeFer said. “Occasionally, we have a scheduling problem, getting available ships sailing to the destinations we need.”
Several local companies are major exporters to Georgia’s ports, with nearly 19,000 jobs in the Augusta area tied to the ports, according to a recent study by the University of Georgia.
For the first time, the annual study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the Terry College of Business examined the impact of Georgia’s deepwater ports on each Georgia county for fiscal year 2011, said Robert Morris, the senior director of external affairs for the Georgia Ports Authority.
“From the study, we were able to determine that the greater Augusta area – Richmond, Columbia and Washington counties – are some of our strongest counties for the export of products coming through our ports and reaching the international marketplace,” Morris said. “That’s a very positive sign because every export container comes with it a great number of jobs.”
Overall, the top three port customers for the region are DSM Chemicals, Thiele Kaolin and Club Car. For Richmond County, the top three port customers are DSM Chemical, RBW and NutraSweet. In Columbia County, the top three are Club Car, Uniparts and John Deere. In Washington County, the top three port customers are Thiele Kaolin, Burgess Pigment and Shiraishi Calcium Kaisha.
Club Car sends a shipment nearly every day by truck to the Savannah port, sometimes sending several truckloads in the same day, said Jeff Miller, the director of customer service and transportation at Club Car in Evans.
“We’re bringing materials in through Savannah, and we’re shipping completed cars out through Savannah,” Miller said.
Club Car sends its cars through the port to Europe, China, India, Australia and Egypt, he said.
According to the UGA study, a total of 18,924 jobs in the Augusta area are tied to Georgia’s ports. Of these jobs, 10,168 are in Richmond County, 3,895 are in Washington County and 2,380 are in Columbia County.
“The jobs are tied to manufacturing, growing or creating the product that is to be exported and transportational logistics jobs,” Morris said.
He referred to the Augusta area as a “hub of export commodities that are being moved daily to the port of Savannah.”
“That’s a real strong connection between our deepwater ports in Savannah and Brunswick and the great manufacturing and raw semi-finished materials that are coming out of the Augusta area,” Morris said.
Last year, Richmond County generated $1.2 billion in port business, with $686.4 million in export trade. The top three commodities by volume were chemicals, plastic film and phosphates. Top imports were amino acids, auto parts and fabrics.
Columbia County had $77.7 million in port business, with $60.2 million in export trade.
The top three exports were automobiles, auto parts and metalware, and the top three imports were auto parts, auto and truck tires and springs.
The study also found the number of port-related jobs in Georgia in fiscal year 2011 increased by 50,000, reaching a total of 350,000, compared to 300,000 statewide port-related jobs in 2011, Morris said.
“Even in a time when Georgia’s overall economy shrunk and jobs were lost, in the port-related industry, 50,000 additional jobs were dependent upon our deepwater ports. That’s a big jump forward,” he said.