UPS Vice President Chuck Altimari moderated a Perimeter Business Alliance panel discussion Friday, Sept. 20, on the economic impact of logistics and transportation locally and in Georgia–key factors on operations at the Sandy Springs-based package handling company.

The panel discussion featured Hartsfield Jackson International Airport Aviation General Manager Louis Miller, and Georgia Ports Authority Chief Operating Officer Griff Lynch in addition to Altimari. Around 100 Perimeter business executives attended he luncheon meeting at Villa Christina.

Altimari, who is chairman of the Fulton Perimeter Community Improvement District and a member of the board of trustees of the Perimeter Business Alliance (PBA), said logistics and transportation “have supported me for my 36 year professional career,” and which he said is important to the overall growth and economic development of the state of Georgia.

Though the Atlanta airport and the Port of Savannah are not physically located within the Perimeter, Altimari and the other two panel members said they still have a major impact on business locally, just as the continued transportation improvements in the Perimeter area impact the airport and coastal ports.

As an example, Altimari pointed out that the next big transportation priority for the PBA and the two Perimeter CIDs is improving the GA 400/I-285 interchange. He asked the other panelists how traffic around the Perimeter affects their operations.

Miller said better traffic flow throughout the metro region is important for the airport to run smoothly. “We want them to be able to get to the airport as quickly as possible,” Miller said. “If they’re slowed down coming into or coming out, it impacts traffic around the airport.”

He told the audience that the airport is investing $70 million on inbound and outbound roadway improvements at the airport property. “Anything that helps travelers get to the airport is important,” he explained, and that includes access for freight handlers as well.

Altimari added, “It’s about Hartsfield Airport and getting to it and to customers anywhere in the world.” He said the proximity of Hartsfield Jackson International Airport was a big factor in UPS’ decision to re locate its corporate headquarters from Connecticut to the Perimeter.

He explained that UPS flies five planes a day to Hartsfield from hubs in the U.S. and the company has 800,000 square feet of warehouse space in south Atlanta because of the airport.

Altimari said UPS spends millions of dollars each year trying to improve its scheduling and delivery of packages. “It is critical to us” that transportation improvements such as the GA 400/I-285 interchange are a priority and take place. He said it also is “critical to employee retention” at the company’s headquarters.

The UPS executive added that access to direct flights through Hartsfield is a big boost for the area’s economic development efforts as well as being an important resource for the shipment of packages and for shuttling its executives to posts throughout the world.

Lynch told the audience, “We are a gateway to the entire Southeast, but Atlanta is a major component of our growth. It’s very important that we rely on each other.” He said businesses want to know that their cargo can move quickly to its destination once it is unloaded in Savannah. “If cargo can’t move fluidly, they’re not going to come,” Lynch added.

He said the Ports Authority is spending $100 million a year to improve operations to move freight more efficiently from the ships to their destinations. “Water is the slowest way to move freight, but once it gets to port, it needs to move quickly,” Lynch said.

He said the Ports Authority is canvassing the state looking for inland rail and truck ports to help in the distribution of the freight.

Lynch said the Georgia Ports Authority directly employs about 1,000 people. But according to a study from the University of Georgia (which is done every two years), the movement of the cargo that comes through the ports creates more than 350,000 jobs statewide.

Altimari explained that, at present, the bulk of freight from Asia goes to Long Beach, California, because the size of the ships required to handle the capacity of the freight cannot go through the Panama Canal. When the expansion of the canal is completed, much of that freight will come to East Coast ports—hopefully including the Port of Savannah.

The Port of Savannah is the fourth largest port in the U.S., but it can presently only handle ships up to 9,2300 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units). Lynch said he had a call from a customer on his way to the luncheon who asked if the port could handle a 14,000 TEC ship. The answer now is no.

Lynch said, “There are ships now loading in Savannah and then going to Charleston to top off,” because the depth of the Savannah River is too shallow.“ Charleston’s port is only 50 percent as active as Savannah’s.

“Savannah has the shallowest depth river of any port in the U.S.,” Lynch said. Of the funds needed to deepen the river, the Ports Authority has $231 million but still needs $400 million more. He said he expects Congress to pass a bill in October that will let the authority to go forward with increasing the depth of the river.