Contributing to the economic mix in addition to a significant tourism industry and extremely busy port are manufacturing, education and health services, transportation and warehousing, and professional and businesses services sectors. Also playing a role are the military and many branches of government located in the Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area – which consists of Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties.
Fostering economic growth are the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, Visit Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA).
Savannah exudes a beauty and charm that few, if any, destinations can match. Savannah’s tourism and hospitality industry continues to be one of the largest economic drivers in Savannah. Although tourism was affected by the recession with a slight dip in the number of visitors, available data for 2010 indicates a strong recovery in tourism with some indicators recording a 10 percent increase over the previous year.
The Port of Savannah is the fourth largest and fastest growing container port in the U.S. In FY2010, it handled more than 2.6 million TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units), a 9.7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.
The Savannah area’s manufacturing sector — with a local economic impact of $2.3 billion — produces a variety of consumer goods that range from corporate jets to baked goods to dental equipment.
Among the high-profile manufacturers are International Paper, Georgia Pacific and Weyerhaeuser, three giants of the pulp and paper industry; Gulfstream Aerospace, a producer of world-class business aircraft; and JCB, which produces heavyconstruction equipment.
This segment of the economy received a boost in 2009 when the construction of a $325 million Mitsubishi Power Systems America plant in west Chatham County was announced. The plant will ultimately create about 500 jobs, and its first phase was operational in late 2010.
The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce helps keep this vital sector of the economy strong. Working specifically through its Manufacturers Council, the Chamber serves as an advocate for pro-business policies at all levels of government and provides an information resource base for the area’s industrial community.
Savannah, along with neighboring southeast Georgia and coastal South Carolina, has an active military presence supported by a long military history.
The city is the site of Hunter Army Airfield, a vital part of the Fort Stewart complex, which is the largest military installation east of the Mississippi River. Boasting the U.S. Army’s longest runway in the eastern United States, Hunter serves as a location from which troops and equipment based at Hunter and Fort Stewart can be deployed rapidly throughout the world. Fort Stewart, with headquarters located 40 miles southwest of Savannah in the Liberty County town of Hinesville, is home of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized). The two installations accounted for a payroll of more than $1.38 billion in 2009.
Savannah is also home to the 165th Airlift Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard, as well as units of the Coast Guard and other components of the Air Guard.
The upsurge in Savannah’s popularity as a destination for vacationers can be traced to several factors, including local marketing efforts, the charismatic effect of the city being the setting for the best-selling book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” for several big-budget motion pictures and as the home of ultra-popular Food Network television star Paula Deen.
Joining the ranks of movie celebrities who’ve graced the Savannah scene was teenage sensation Miley Cyrus, who starred in “The Last Song,” a Walt Disney movie filmed here during summer 2009 and released in spring 2010. Also, “The Conspirator,” a movie focusing on the assassination of President Lincoln that premiered at Ford’s Theater in April 2011, was directed by Robert Redford and filmed in the Historic District during the fall of 2009.
Retail and Services
Savannah is served by two enclosed malls, both located on Abercorn Street Extension, and a vast array of other shopping centers.
Sharing the retail spotlight with the malls on Savannah’s main drag are Abercorn Walk, a cluster of upscale businesses anchored by Fresh Market; Abercorn Commons, consisting of a mix of new and established stores near Oglethorpe Mall; and a revamped shopping center across from the mall that features World Market.
Much of the area’s retail activity is concentrated south and west of downtown Savannah, with U.S. Highway 17 north of Richmond Hill developing rapidly as the site of a Wal-Mart Super Center, and much retail growth occurring along U.S. 17 in the Berwick area. Another hot spot is the Godley Station area near the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
The city’s Historic District has its own commercial enclaves. River Street and City Market accommodate tourists looking for mementos of their visits, and the once-dormant commercial venue of Broughton Street has experienced a renaissance involving a proliferation of antique shops, specialty boutiques and trendy restaurants. Also undergoing redevelopment is Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.