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Savannah Morning News, USA, August 29, 2008

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Mercedes breaks ground on new prep center at Brunswick port

Created 2008-08-28 23:30

Mercedes-Benz USA officials joined Georgia Ports officials in Brunswick on Thursday for a ground-breaking ceremony for Mercedes' new 70,000-square-foot Vehicle Preparation Center at the ports' Colonel's Island facility.

The automaker, which had been looking at consolidating its two Southeastern shipping operations in Jacksonville and Brunswick for several years, announced last year that it had chosen Brunswick as its South Atlantic hub.

The decision not only means another 50,000 Mercedes vehicles coming into the Port of Brunswick for processing each year, it also assures Brunswick will continue to be the port of export for more than 95,000 Mercedes-Benz vehicles already transiting Brunswick's docks from the company's manufacturing facility in Alabama.

"Georgia's logistics advantages have once again attracted a great company and new jobs for our citizens," Gov. Sonny Perdue said in a statement released Thursday. "This underscores the ability of our ports to expand and our people to efficiently attract and handle new business. We are confident Mercedes-Benz USA will thrive in Georgia."

The new center is expected to begin operations next summer.

The U.S. Maritime Administration's Port Impact economic model estimates the additional 50,000 automobiles through Brunswick will create 122 new jobs (78 direct and 44 indirect), generate $1.5 million in state and local taxes and add $5.5 million to Georgia's gross state product.

The center will process vehicles headed for Mercedes-Benz dealers throughout the Southeast, as well as Texas and Oklahoma. It will be equipped with advanced computerized control systems and inspection facilities designed to ensure the high quality of each new vehicle.

The center will also be capable of accessory installation, full body shop operations, vehicle detailing and distribution operations.

Thursday's ground breaking is the first on the south side of Colonel's Island, where Georgia Ports has some 900 acres available for auto processing.

"This part of Colonel's Island has the potential to dramatically increase Brunswick's already strong auto-processing market share," said GPA spokesman Robert Morris.

Brunswick is currently the nation's sixth-largest auto port, moving more than 373,000 auto and machinery units through Colonel's Island in fiscal 2007.

"I know of no other port with 900 acres available for auto processing," Morris said. "Mercedes-Benz is just the beginning."

Latin America trade on upswing

Despite Congressional delays in approving the Colombian free trade agreement, U.S. trade with the South American country is on the rise.

A Latin Business Chronicle analysis of trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the first half of 2008 indicates that, of all Latin American countries, Colombia is experiencing the strongest growth in U.S. trade.

There's plenty of opportunity for more trade growth, especially between Columbia and Georgia, according to Jovita Carranza, deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

But for that to occur, the U.S. needs to finalize its trade agreement with Colombia, Carranza said in a recent interview.

"We see tremendous opportunity for growth and we see Georgia as a key market for the Southeast region," Carranza said.

"Exports are taking off and the weak dollar puts us in a position to potentially double the trade we do now," she said.

In 2007, Georgia exported a total of $23 billion worth of goods, Carranza said. Of that, $183 million went to Colombia.

"Congress gives more than 90 percent of Colombian imports duty-free access to the American market, while American exporters to Colombia still pay hundreds of millions in tariffs each year," she said.

"The free trade agreement would level the playing field, making it easier for America's small businesses, farmers and workers."

Business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for Savannah Morning News. She can be reached at mary.mayle@savannahnow.com

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