Savannah: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Savannah has a five-tiered economy consisting of manufacturing, the port and transportation, tourism, the military, and miscellaneous businesses such as health care. Retail and service businesses are also important factors. Manufacturing is the largest part of the economy, with 251 manufacturing facilities in Chatham County in 2002 with annual payrolls exceeding $713 million. The largest plants include Gulfstream Aerospace, an executive jet aircraft manufacturer; International Paper, the largest producer of paper for paper bags in the United States; Georgia Pacific Savannah River Site, which makes paper products; Great Dane Trailers, which makes large truck trailers; and Derst Baking Company, which makes bread, rolls and cakes. The transportation industry, centered on the Port of Savannah, is a vital element of the economic mix. It is the fifth largest container port in the country, handling more than 1.5 million container units in 2004 and shipping to more than 150 countries around the world.

Tourism is an active and rapidly growing segment of the economy. The city's attractiveness as a visitor destination is enhanced by its charming historic district, accommodations, and accessibility. In 2003 Savannah's nearly six million visitors spent $1.542 billion, supporting nearly 16,000 jobs locally.

The military plays an important role in the economic health of the city as well. The U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) is housed at Fort Stewart, 40 miles from Savannah. Hunter Army Airfield, part of the army complex, is located in Savannah. The Stewart/Hunter complex has more than 22,000 soldiers and approximately 3,500 civilians making it coastal Georgia's largest employer. Combined payrolls totaled $934.48 million in 2003.

Retail and services today generate most new jobs. Savannah, with two enclosed malls and 41 large shopping centers, is the retail center for a six-county area. Retail sales totaled $4.5 billion in 2004.

Items and goods produced: transportation equipment, chemicals, cotton, food products, stone, clay, glass, fabricated metals, printing and publishing, computer equipment and machinery, paper, paper products, aircraft, petroleum products, wood products, tea, sugar, construction materials

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) is the business solicitation organization in the City of Savannah and Chatham County. It assists companies interested in relocating to, or expanding in, the Savannah area at no cost to the client. SEDA was recently named one of the top ten development groups in the country for the second time.

Local programs

Savannah offers incentives and inducements to companies considering investments that will impact the labor market in a positive way. Programs include a variety of job tax credits, including a special job tax credit for new corporate headquarters facilities, a one to three percent tax credit for an investment of $50,000 or more, a research and development tax credit, and up to $500 tax credit per program per employee for retraining. There are tax abatements and exemption programs, including material handling equipment sales tax exemptions, pollution equipment sales tax exemptions, manufacturing machinery sales tax exemption, and tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds for manufacturing facilities. Parts of Savannah fall under the blanket of the Foreign Trade Zone program. Other programs include a childcare credit, electricity rate discounts, county inventory tax exceptions, rapidly expanding business tax credit for Georgia companies growing faster than 20 percent per year, and eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant (tuition and fees at Georgia public and state technical colleges). In addition, the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce has established a one-stop resource program for small and minority businesses.

State programs

Georgia has business-friendly tax laws; the state does not use the unitary tax method, but instead taxes businesses only on income apportioned to Georgia. In addition, the state four percent sales tax rate has risen only one percentage point since 1951. Georgia's Freeport zones, like Savannah's, exempt for ad valorem taxation on all or part of the value of certain tangible property held in certain inventories. Companies can apply for a permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, which can result in their obtaining a federal permit as well, via a single application. Georgia also exempts sales and use tax on certain computer equipment.

Job training programs

Several workforce development and training programs provide students educational and technical skills through apprenticeships, internships and professional development programs. Among them are Project Workforce, administered by the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce; Coastal Empire Tech Prep Consortium; Junior Achievement; youth apprenticeship through First District Regional Educational Service Agency; Coastal Workforce Services; and the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP) through the University System of Georgia. The Quick Start Pre-employment Training program is a three-way partnership of Quick Start, the Georgia Department of Labor, and a Georgia company wishing to obtain a qualified workforce. The program is a coordinated applicant screening and on-going training process for groups of 25 or more workers.

Development Projects

Savannah is unique in having a large tract of waterfront land open for development and located close to the central business and historic districts. Recently completed projects on the tract include the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center and Westin Savannah Harbor Resort, a 403-room luxury facility.

Icon Health & Fitness, a manufacturer of fitness equipment headquartered in Logan, Utah, announced plans in 2004 to build a 600,000 square foot distribution facility in Crossroads Industrial Park in Savannah. The facility will bring 300 new jobs to Savannah when it opens in 2005.

Economic Development Information: Savannah Economic Development Authority, 8001 Chatham Center Drive, Suite 300, Savannah, GA 31405; telephone (912)447-8450 or (800)673-7388; fax (912)447-8455; email

Commercial Shipping

Savannah is one of the southeast's leading seaports and cargo hubs. Shipping activity is focused on the Port of Savannah, which is supported by two railroads and two interstate highways as well as Savannah International Airport. Improvements at the port focus on handling more containerized cargo. The port moves 300,000 containers annually through more than 9 million square feet of warehousing. Because of its location on the coast, the port serves as a major distribution point to and from a 26-state region, which services 75 percent of the country. The port has been designated as a Foreign Trade Zone to encourage international commerce.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Georgia is a right-to-work state. Labor costs in Georgia are low and union activity is minimal. The area population is growing and the number of jobs is increasing, especially in the service sector. Though job growth in Georgia was slowing, in 2005 jobs in the Savannah area were expected to grow at a rate of 3.1 percent, the largest percentage gain for any metro area in the state.

Hospitality, port activities, tourism, convention business, and information technology (IT) were expected to be major sources of job growth in 2005 and beyond.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Savannah metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 149,022

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 8,500

manufacturing: 13,500

trade, transportation and utilities: 30,300

information: 1,900

financial activities: 6,100

professional and business services: 14,400

educational and health services: 19,400

leisure and hospitality: 17,600

other services: 7,100

government: 21,000

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $16.30

Unemployment rate: 3.2% (November 2004)

Savannah: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Memorial Health 4,583
Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education 4,309
Gulfstream Aerospace 4,300
St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital 3,800
Fort Stewart Hunter Army Airfield 3,485
City of Savannah 2,408
International Paper 1,800
Wal-Mart 1,675
Chatham County 1,600
Georgia-Pacific Savannah River Mill 1,461
Kroger 1,300
Savannah College of Art & Design 1,200

Cost of Living

Savannah is a relatively inexpensive town in which to live and do business. Outlook Magazine ranked Savannah as "one of the top 25 places to live and work."

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $254,612

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 97.6

State income tax rate: Ranges from 1.0% to 6.0%

State sales tax rate: 4.0% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: 2.0%

Property tax rate: Set and reviewed twice yearly and applied to the assessed value, which is 40 percent of the fair market value. The city's millage rate has seen a gradual reduction since 1996 and was 13.30 mills in 2002.

Economic Information: Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, 101 E Bay Street, Savannah, GA 31402; telephone (912)644-6400; fax (912)644-6497