More thoughts on dredging and jobs

Those interested in the issue of dredging the Savannah River to accommodate larger vessels after the expansion of the Panamal Canal is completed in a few years should go straight to a piece by Mary Landers in today’s Savannah Morning News: “Corps’ harbor analysis complicated”.

Mary’s piece is lighter on the numbers than my recent column about the Corps of Engineers’ economic rationale for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, but hers contains a wide variety of sources. My column and a follow-up blog post, “Port cargo growth would stay the same with or without deepening, according to the Corps of Engineers”, focused on the single issue of the economic benefit coming from increased efficiency, not from increased cargo; Mary’s piece analyzes that assumption from a variety of directions.

I’ll throw in here my own two cents regarding job creation with the proviso that no one knows if, how many, or where jobs will be created by SHEP.

As noted in today’s article, SHEP would be a public works project of sufficient magnitude that we’d certainly see jobs created locally. But once the dredging is complete, some of those jobs would vanish.

If container traffic increases at the same rate with or without dredging, it stands to reason that there would be slower job growth for professions on the front lines; there would be fewer tug trips, more predictable schedules for workers as wait times are trimmed, fewer vessels that need servicing, etc.

The $100 million or so saved each year through greater efficiency would largely go to corporations involved in shipping. Some of that money would surely be spent in the U.S., but some of it might be spent on operations or investments elsewhere in the world. Shipping companies might pass a large percentage of their savings to those who use their services, which could result in higher profits for any number of businesses around the world, which in turn could lead to higher wages and/or more jobs. Some of that money would probably be put to good economic use in Georgia, but the benefit that the COE predicts would be national. As a Corps spokesperson said in my column, it would be impossible to track where jobs would be created.

I suppose there’s a slight chance that a major manufacturer or two might settle in Georgia if the port is deepened. They might like the added efficiency, and they might like the overtly friendly gesture to big business that deepening could be seen as. At the same time, as efficiency improves, major manufacturers might look to other countries rather than the U.S.

Given the known risks to the environment, the unknown risks, and the uncertainties about job growth, I’m opposed to the dredging at this point. But I’ll be following the issue closely and will do with an open mind.