DALTON, Ga. — Workers will be able to start applying for jobs at the Appalachian Regional Port next week, a year away from the major state investment's opening day.
There aren't a whole lot of vacancies, though. Georgia Ports Authority officials said during a presentation at Dalton State College on Thursday that they will fill 11 positions: An assistant manager of operations, an administrative coordinator, an electro-mechanical technician and some equipment operators.
When state officials announced the port in July 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal said the $24 million investment was a historic achievement. (The state government paid $10 million, the Georgia Ports Authority paid $7.5 million and Murray County paid $1 million; CSX Transportation paid $5.5 million.)
"Twenty-five years from now," Deal said at the time, "you will all look back and take pride in what is happening today."
The port's impact, however, could be felt more indirectly in Atlanta and Savannah than it will be locally.
Georgia Ports Authority Director of Strategic Operations and Safety Wes Lanier said Thursday that, in addition to the 11 direct jobs created by the Appalachian Regional Port, economic analysts suggest the investment could bring about 1,400 indirect jobs to the area. But Lanier and Terminal Manager Wesley Barrell said it's difficult to predict how those other jobs will arise.
"Outside of [the direct jobs], who knows the number?" Barrell said. "As the community grows, that's where the job growth will be."
Barrell said the Georgia Ports Authority will interview job candidates through December. Then, the new hires will train in Savannah for about six months before returning here next summer. The inland port should open in October 2018.
Barrell, Lanier and Georgia Ports Authority Director of Business Development John Petrino spent much of Thursday's presentation telling people how the Appalachian Regional Port, located off U.S. Route 411 in Crandall, Ga., fits into the state's big picture.
The plan starts with workers in the Panama Canal, widening the waterway to allow larger container ships to power through. Bigger boats can carry more goods, but they also need deeper water. This, in turn, motivated Georgia officials to deepen 39 miles of the Savannah River, lowering the floor from 42 feet below water to 47 feet.
The project costs $973 million, Lanier said, with the federal government slated to pay about $713 million of it. State officials started the dredging two years ago and plan to finish in 2021.
The biggest ships the Port of Savannah has ever seen are already arriving. But, Lanier said, those ships can't deliver or carry away all the containers they could handle because the river isn't deep enough yet. When the dredging is finished, Georgia Ports Authority officials believe Savannah could be a hub for more containers than anywhere on the East Cost.
This, in turn, could put more semi trailers on Georgia roads. That is where the Appalachian Regional Port comes in.
Instead of hauling goods to Savannah all the way from eastern Tennessee, northeast Alabama or western North Carolina, truck drivers will drop the containers off in Murray County. When they arrive at the port, Barrell said, a worker will cross reference the container, making sure it has the right stuff inside. And a crane operator will lift the container off the truck, onto a track. The crane can stack five containers atop each other. And the train, meanwhile, could haul away about 150 containers.
This all leads to fewer truck driving running all over the state — around its biggest city, in particular. John Trent, senior director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said last year that the Appalachian Regional Port will be responsible for 35,000 fewer semis in the Atlanta area, already notorious for its jammed highways.
In addition to the Appalachian Regional Port, there is another inland port in Cordele, Ga., located in the southwest part of the state. Lanier said state officials would like to add three to five more such ports around Georgia, continuing to put a dent in semi trailer traffic.
But if the Appalachian Regional Port is removing all these trucks from Atlanta, what will be the impact in Murray and Whitfield counties? Kathy Raisin, a Dalton resident, asked the Georgia Ports Authority officials what routes these vehicles will take to and from the local inland port.
If the truck is leaving and heading south, Lanier said, it will head down a state route, cut across the Dalton Bypass and then hop on Interstate 75. But if the driver heads north? Lanier said he heard "there's talk" about expanding U.S. Route 411 for this kind of new traffic.
"I strongly feel like our area will be impacted, whichever route they take," Raisin said.
"We have more work to do on the truck routes," Lanier said. "We have a little time to figure out the best routes. We are trying to communicate with the community leadership."
After the meeting, Raisin said she was not pleased with the answers she received.
"[Traffic is] already horrible," she said. "We already have to avoid the area, especially when school gets out. ... I think it's a trucking nightmare. I don't think anyone understands that."
Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.