CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - 2015 is coming to a close this week, and it marks the end of a year of major growth for the Georgia Ports Authority.
November was a record setting month, in fact, it was the best November the ports have ever seen. This year, it had a bout a 12 percent increase in volume compared to 2014. That's about three times more than usual.
"We're truly running this year at volumes we didn't expect to see until 2018 or 2019, but that's all a great thing for those that depend on the ports for jobs," said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. "The multiplier effect of the jobs is pretty significant so I don't say it lightly when I say we are up and we will be up 12, 13 percent this year. We have become so large and mature as a port, traditionally right now, we should be in the three-and-a-half or four percent range."
Compared to 2014, the ports have added more than 400,000 TEUs this year, which stands for twenty-foot equivalent units. In other words, if you were to line up all the additional shipping containers that came into the ports just this year, they'd stretch from Savannah to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Labor strikes at west coast ports a year ago led to many companies re-routing vessels here, and a lot of that business stuck around.
"We retained more of that business than we expected. Yes, we gained new customers that we had never handled before, and we once again proved to those customers that have been here for some time that if you need to send more business our way, we can handle it and we can handle it efficiently," said Foltz.
"It is all about jobs. All this new business that is coming through the ports, whether it is Georgia Ports Authority employees, we have hired an additional 150 employees over the past year, so our employees are working more overtime and getting more discretionary income," Foltz said. "Whether it is new employees or extending the current reach of our employee base, we are doing everything we can to make sure the balance is right so that we can service our customer base efficiently, service it productively, but also bring good quality of life to our employees."
John Jackson and other truck drivers don't work for the ports, but they say they're still overworked and underpaid by the trucking companies that employ them.
"They're doing an increase in volume, but they're not really helping the drivers, as far as trying to take care of the drivers," said John Jackson, truck driver.
Plus they're upset they don't get a cut of container royalties like some other port workers.
"There's a lot of revenue and money that is being paid out at the end of the year. The drivers don't get any of that," said Gregory Bess, truck driver.
"It takes everybody to make a system work, and you can't just take care of some of the people and leave the other people out. And that's what they're basically doing. They're leaving the main ones out," said Jackson.
Port officials say more business at the ports has meant more jobs for truck drivers, though. The executive director expects 2016 to be another good year, but he doesn't anticipate quite the same level of growth as 2015.