The Port of Savannah is the fastest-growing port in the nation, and the man at the helm is Georgia Ports Authority Chairman Steve Green (BBA '71), who oversees what, in these tough economic times, is an extraordinary success story. The Port of Savannah's rapid growth currently ranks it No. 4 in the nation, and one major distributor recently told Time magazine that he expects Savannah to overtake No. 3 New York/New Jersey "within the next decade."
Jeff Humphreys (AB '82, PhD '88), chief economic forecaster for Terry's Selig Center for Economic Growth and the author of an exhaustive study of the port's economic impact, states unequivocally, "It's the best-managed port in the country."
Which is where Green's leadership comes into play.
Green is helping the GPA develop broad-based Congressional support for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Program (SHEP), which proposes deepening the shipping channel to 48 feet by 2014. This depth will allow the next generation of cargo vessels — which carry the cargo equivalent of what 5,800 semi tractor-trailers, or 570 Boeing 747s could haul — to negotiate the Port of Savannah.
Vessels that call on Savannah's Garden City and Ocean Terminals unload goods for such industry giants as Home Depot, Target, Ikea, Oneida, Wal-Mart, and Heineken. Specialized automobile transporters deliver new cars to the Port of Brunswick's Colonel's Island Terminal, where 368,351 vehicles and pieces of machinery — including BMW, Volkswagen and Porsche — arrived on U.S. shores in FY08.
In the quest for federal funds for SHEP, Green draws on his political experience to identify Congressional districts all over the country whose products moved regularly through Georgia's ports.
"You know the saying, 'All politics is local,' says Green, who majored in management at Terry. "We had to show people in Congress that the Savannah port is local to them. It may not be in their district, or their state, but they've got 5,000 workers dependent on it. That makes it of vital interest to their constituents."
Green first made his mark in the family business, a Frito-Lay distributorship, and later entered politics as chief of staff and campaign manager for former congressman Lindsay Thomas. Green has since returned to the private sector, founding a real estate investment and development company.
County commissioner Patrick Shay, a Democrat who wants the port to be "as green [sustainable] as we can make it," wholeheartedly supports the channel-deepening project as efficient, ecologically sound, and economically important. And he notes that Republican-leaning Green puts aside partisan politics to forge coalitions for the common good. Shay also attributes the GPA's success in part to the fact that "it's run as an enterprise, not a bureaucratic program."
Green's devotion to the public good is the hallmark of his tenure as GPA chairman.
"The value Steve brings to the table is getting all the various stakeholders to agree," says the GPA's COO Curtis Folz, "and to insure that the process is as transparent as it possibly can be."
Green's political savvy came in handy during the recent visit of U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who must be persuaded that deepening the port is crucial to its continued economic vitality.
Over a lunch of fried chicken, green beans, and Georgia peach cobbler, Green drove home some key points about the ports having a direct effect on both the state's and the country's economy. Before he left, Gutierrez promised to put in a good word about the channel-deepening project to his fellow cabinet members.
Lobbying an emissary of the president is an example of what Green means when he says, "We [the board] are the nexus where day-to-day policy and long-term strategy connect."