Less than a week after one of Georgia’s logistics gems, the Port of Savannah, hosted the largest ship ever on the East Coast, the Georgia Logistics Summit hosted by the Georgia Centers of Innovation opened at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. More than 2,000 attendees turned out for the annual summit of one Georgia’s most important and growing industries. Georgia is home to several global logistics giants, including household names UPS and Delta, but also industry leaders like Saia and Manhattan Associates.
Governor Nathan Deal was one of the opening speakers, highlighting the tremendous economic impact from logistics in the state. Since July 2016, more than $4 billion (and adding up to approximately 18,000 jobs) has been invested in Georgia by companies requiring specialty logistics. Deal also highlighted the aforementioned Savannah port and the deepening of the channel there. A recent report by the Army Corps and other officials showed the project will probably hit a likely 7-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio as larger ships can be accommodated at the port.
According to a report from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, in 2015, Georgia’s ports supported more than 369,000 jobs across the state, providing $20.4 billion in income. An incident of geography means the port of Savannah is uniquely positioned as the western-most port on the east coast – with easy interstate access to Atlanta and into the Midwest. It is the fourth-busiest and fastest growing container port in the U.S.
Air, rail and road are also critical pieces of the logistics puzzle and Georgia is well-positioned in all of these areas as well. For the average passenger, it can be easy to overlook but Hartsfield-Jackson airport moves a massive amount of cargo through its complexes. There are three different cargo complexes of more than 2 million square feet of warehousing to allow for rapid handling and access. More than 625,000 metric tons of cargo is transported on 32 different air carriers.
It’s not all good news though, despite Georgia’s success so far, one less manageable or solvable problem is beginning to creep into the industry – the human. Or in the logistics industry, the lack of a human. In addition to Deal, the other opening speakers almost all touched on the problem of a labor shortage for the industry in Georgia. Dr. Christina Scherrer, a systems and industrial engineering professor at Kennesaw State, said a recent survey showed that 90% of 1,600 business and industrial engineering students polled were familiar with the industry but only 20% were interested in entering the field.
A poll of attendees at the session found that 72% of them said their company was dealing with labor shortage issues. As with a number of industries – manufacturing for example – there may be a problem of connecting new graduates to an industry perceived as blue collar. Scherrer noted that many students likely think truck driver when they hear about logistics. There are certainly those jobs – which may pay more than people think – but there are also many technical jobs that require engineering or software experience. Scherrer is among those in the industry attempting to correct these misconceptions.
Sandra MacQuillan, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, closed out the summit fittingly, “Logistics is often an unsung hero in how we drive our businesses. For me, it is the glue.”