Panama Canal Expansion To Boost Atlanta, Savannah Economies

Jan 19, 2016

A huge project to expand the Panama Canal, allowing larger ships to pass through it, should be completed later this year. And many of those ships are likely to eventually come to the Port of Savannah.

“We consider Savannah one of our key partners in this network, and your growth is our growth,” Francisco Miguez, an executive vice president with the Panama Canal Authority, told attendees at the SMC3 conference in Atlanta on Monday.

And Atlanta is part of that equation too, said Troels Adrian with the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

“We are really the distribution center for the Port of Savannah,” Adrian said. “There is a symbiotic relationship between Atlanta and Savannah.”

But the economic impact won’t be immediately obvious, he said.

“Trade lanes have to be rerouted, contracts have to be renewed,” he said. “It's going to be a gradual effect, you're probably going to see it over years if not decades, but it's going to be significant.”

And there will be an effect on jobs, too, said Page Siplon, CEO of TeamOne Logistics and formerly of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. He said workforce development is a challenge in the industry.

"Trucks deliver the freight," he said. "The truck drivers do so much more than that, but they're not given the respect, they're not given the pay, they're not given the time off or the quality of life that frankly they deserve."

The Port of Savannah can currently handle the larger ships that the canal is expanding for, but only during high tides. A deepening project that's now underway will eventually allow the ships in the harbor at any time.

Miguez said the canal expansion should be completed in the second half of this year.