As he was hailing the economic impact of the federal government's formal approval last week for the project, a new report predicts there will be so much work in Georgia's freight industry that it will soon be hard to find enough workers.
The governor made his comments at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual State of the Ports luncheon in which Atlanta-based shippers get an update on progress at Georgia's two seagoing ports.
"I just know that it's important that this project begin, and if we have to start it with just state funding, I feel certain that with the commitments we've seen at the federal level that federal money will be forthcoming," he said.
He noted that the state is racing to complete it in time to accommodate larger ships that will be able to transit the Panama Canal that will be widened by 2014. The state wants to make sure shippers using the larger container vessels won't take their business elsewhere because the Savannah River isn't deep enough.
"Any time that we can shave off is important," he said. "There are some preliminary things that we can begin to do."
More than half of the $652 million cost for the project will be spent on environmental projects to mitigate for potential damage from the deepening and to correct past problems. State funds already in hand can go immediately to those projects as well as to dredging the 14 miles of the river closest to the ocean.
The main work of digging the river bed down to a depth of 47 feet at low tide must wait until Congress adds the money next year.
A report released by the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics says the state will produce 9,500 new jobs each year, growing 18 percent yearly, which is 5 percentage points higher than the national average and three times higher than the Southeastern average.
Filling all those jobs is already a challenge here. Georgia issues 51 percent of the nation's truck-driving certificates and graduates 46 percent of all industrial engineers.
"We have a huge opportunity for new jobs in logistics," said Page Siplon, the center's director. "We needed to put a number on that. This report is the tip of the iceberg. Now, we're going to be working on executing some of those recommendations."
Among the recommendations in the report are streamlining the transition for military veterans to get truck-driving licenses, internships and scholarships, and convincing federal officials to track logistics as a separate industry in its statistics.
Siplon said the center is beginning to coordinate with Georgia's education agencies and Department of Labor to fill those jobs now and in the future.