Gov. Nathan Deal outlined the dimensions of Savannah's harbor deepening Monday for a Statesboro audience and sized up the state government's financial recovery, now underway.
While the Legislature was meeting in Atlanta, Deal came to Forest Heights Country Club as guest speaker for the annual Rotary Citizen of the Year luncheon. The event is a joint meeting of the Statesboro and Downtown Statesboro Rotary clubs.
"We have come a long way in a relatively short period of time as our state has rebounded from the Great Recession," Deal said.
More than 319,000 private-sector jobs have been added in Georgia since he took office in 2011, he said, and 93,000 of these were created in 2014.
Deal mentioned two European automakers that now will have their North American headquarters in metropolitan Atlanta. The new Porsche Cars North America headquarters, including a test track, is being completed near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. More recently, Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will move its North American headquarters from New Jersey to the Sandy Springs area.
"So we're seeing growth in that white-collar job market," Deal said. "Much of it is there around the metro Atlanta area, but we're also seeing a scattered type of growth around our state."
Recently, he said, "people have begun to take notice again" of the importance of the Savannah and Brunswick ports. Brunwick's port, with its Colonel's Island Terminal, is a leader for auto imports and exports.
But more of the recent attention has been on the deepening of Savannah's port, now getting underway. Since the first federal authorization was enacted in 1999, back when Deal was a member of Congress, the work has been a long time coming, he said.
New federal legislation last year raised the cost limit of the project to nearly triple the 1999 estimate, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee the work, gave its go-ahead.
The first step, Deal noted, is the raising of the CSS Georgia. To prevent its capture by Union forces, the Confederate ironclad was scuttled in the mouth of the Savannah River in 1864.
"It now is the property, I understand, of the United States Navy. I guess that goes with the results of war," Deal said, getting some laughs when he added, "I just wish they'd pay for getting it out of there."
The recovery of what is left of the Civil War ship is expected to cost $17 million, he said.
"But we can't start the dredging until we get it out of the way," he said. "Some people think that there may be enough left to put it in a museum. I think that remains to be seen."
The dredging actually will begin in the ocean floor leading to the river, with the entire channel extending about 33 miles, and will increase the harbor's depth about 5 feet overall, he said.
Originally, the federal government was to pay 70 percent of the cost and the state, 30 percent. The state's allocation, set aside over the past several years, is roughly one-third of the projected cost, Deal noted. The state's accumulated funding is $266 million, and the current cost projection is $706 million.
President Barack Obama is including $42 million for the Savannah harbor in his new federal budget request.
"They've still got a long ways to go get their share to make this project completed, but we're encouraged by it, and the port is becoming more and more one of those centers of attention," Deal said.
The deepening is to allow Savannah's port to handle "post-Panamax" ships, larger than those now allowed through the Panama Canal. The canal is undergoing a doubling of its capacity projected to be complete next year.
Savannah's port, Deal said, "is becoming a point of export for Central and South America."
Container ships make up a large portion of Savannah's port traffic. The containers are transferred to and from trucks and railway cars.
"Many manufacturers have already come, many others will come, and you are here in close proximity to that, and Bulloch County, in my estimation, is going to benefit greatly from what you see happening in manufacturing that is dependent on that port," Deal said.
After the governor's visit Monday, his communications office issued a news release noting that 2014 was a fifth consecutive record year for Georgia exports. Based on U.S. Census Bureau numbers, Georgia ranks 11th among the states in export volume and moved from eighth to seventh in imports last year. In the past five years, the state has grown from 10th largest in population to eighth, as Deal mentioned.
The governor had just received a report on the state government's January revenue, showing a 3 percent increase over January of last year. That is a little less than an annualized increase of about 5.2 percent his staff has been tracking, he said.
Deal noted that the state is rebuilding its cash reserve.
"We are, within the next year or so, going to reach the $1 billion mark of a rainy day fund, something that is going to be very important for us to maintain," Deal said.