Taking care of Tenn-Tom business

FULTON – Port directors along the Tenn-Tom Waterway, including Itawamba County Port Director Greg Deakle, believes wholeheartedly that there is strength in numbers.
With the idea that many are greater than one, Port Itawamba has joined forces with Yellow Creek, Amory, Aberdeen and Columbus ports to form GROWPORTS (Generating Regional Opportunity on the Waterway) – a single organization that represents ports along the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway that will promote on-barge shipping as a viable business strategy for industries looking to ship across north Mississippi.
Deakle said working together provides area ports with various advantages, including improved marketability and greater potential to receive state and federal grants.
The organization also is supported by TVA and Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which greatly strengthens its cause.
Deakle called it “a really good partnership.”
“There’s more to gain from the sum of us,” he said. “Each port kind of has its own niche, and we weren’t doing a lot to get the word out there about our capabilities. When container on barge (shipping) came along, it just made the most sense to combine our efforts and market this north Mississippi area. Getting GROWPORTS together and moving forward as quickly as possible just made sense.”

Transportation alternative
The catalyst for the idea was the recent introduction of the container on-barge shipping service in Itawamba County, which allows industries to ship large containers down the waterway as opposed to highway transportation. Deakle has been promoting this service to businesses within a 60-mile radius. But in doing so, he decided to broaden the scope a little.
“When we started looking at the container on-barge shipping service we thought about which customers would be best impacted by it,” he said. “As we started moving outside of a 60-mile radius, it pretty much became apparent through that impact analysis, some customers may be better served at Amory, Iuka or Columbus … It expanded the overall market area and reach.”
Deakle, who also serves as the executive director of the Itawamba County Development Council, believes shipping via waterway will continue to grow in popularity among industries.
“We’re not moving trucks from one side of the state to another,” he said. “We’re moving them up and down the waterway and lessening the impact to any one highway and spreading it across many.”
The immediate goal for all ports under the GROWPORTS banner is expansion of the market via attracting new businesses to a new service.
Deakle pushed the benefits of shipping via waterway and how its growth could bolster an area’s economic climate.
“It’s so much more efficient and cheaper than hauling between truck and rail line like most do,” he said. “So, the more folks you get using the waterway, the lower the transportation cost, the more a business is able to expand and hire more people.”

Little overlap
The ports involved within GROWPORTS occasionally vie for the same business opportunities, but most often do not. Deakle said it simply benefits all of them to push the other ports when marketing to a business, promoting services another port might offer in order to locate an industry within the state.
“We all talk about our transportation resources. But it’s helpful for me to know that if there’s a company not necessarily suited for Itawamba County, there may be resources in another part of the state better suited, so they wind up here instead of Kentucky or Tennessee,” Deakle said. “Probably two-thirds of the people I talk with are interested in Itawamba County because of the waterway. If they’re interested in transportation through waterway, rail and highway access, it isn’t just us, but it’s also Iuka, Columbus and Amory.
“We want to make sure businesses come to Mississippi.”
And when trying to attract federal or state dollars, having an alliance helps . One big organization representing five ports and thousands of people has more of a shot at a grant than just one small port. The group is pursuing several large grants that could potentially be game-changers for the area. Deakle thinks working together with other counties gives Itawamba County a shot.
“There’s strength in numbers. I think we’re going to be able to talk about the plight and future of the waterway to both our state and federal delegations,” he said. “It’s not us acting individually anymore; it encompasses something much larger. I don’t know if we have more power or leverage, but I do know we’re all on the same page, all moving in the same direction and all asking for the same things.”

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing adam.armour@itawamba360.com or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.

Adam Armour/The Itawamba County