Atlanta’s airport. The waters off the coast of Georgia. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.
What do they have in common?
Andrew Young — the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, congressman and Atlanta mayor — linked all of them together during a speech Wednesday evening in Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center.
He was the featured speaker for the university’s annual celebration of King’s birthday.
“When he said, ‘I have seen the promised land. I may not get there, but my people will get to the promised land,’ he was talking about south Georgia in 2014,” Young said of King. “This is your promised land. And don’t waste your promise. And take the time to do the homework to develop your visions. And no matter how crazy they are, if you believe in them day at a time, you’re going to have a wonderful life.”
He told Georgia Southern students that rather than come back to Atlanta, or go to a place like New York or Washington, D.C., they ought to consider staying in south Georgia. That’s because, like Atlanta more than 70 years ago when the airport began to develop under Mayor William B. Hartsfield, south Georgia is in a position to benefit from expanded service at the Port of Savannah when it begins to accept bigger ships moving through an expanded Panama Canal in the next few years.
“Atlanta, when I became mayor, was less than a million people,” Young said. “It’s now over 6 million. Why? Because they’re coming here. They’re coming here because something special is happening here. It happened around the Atlanta airport. And that airport, which we built for nothing, we built it and made it pay for itself. And it generates billions of dollars, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. …
“What I want to say to you is, in the Martin Luther King tradition, to end poverty, you’ve got to create jobs,” he added.
By staying in south Georgia after graduating, today’s Georgia Southern students can take advantage of the potential windfall that looms from a potentially booming port in Savannah – or an even bigger one that could be built off the Georgia coast.
“In two years, maybe three, the ships coming through the Panama Canal are going to be too big for every port on the East Coast,” Young said. “They won’t get into Baltimore, they won’t get into Philadelphia, they won’t get into Boston and New York. We’re trying to dredge the Savannah so they can get into Savannah, but we know that once there’s a hurricane, that fills up.
“But there are plans to have the largest port on the East Coast within 100 miles of where you are,” he continued. “About 40 of those miles will be out to sea. And that’s not any more dreaming than it was for Hartsfield building a jet-length runway when only military planes were flying jets.”
He cited a similar port that was built 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria, which greatly increased the African country’s capacity to import and export goods. Furthermore, Africa has several of the world’s fastest-growing economies — and a larger port off the coast of Georgia would be a major gateway to get goods to and from those countries.
“Those people are going to want everything you can make, and they’re going to be able to pay for it,” Young said. “So all we’ve got to do is figure out a way to ship it to them. To ship it to them, they’ve got to bring it here, haul it and put it somewhere. That means warehousing. They’ll be different parts coming from different parts of the world. That’ll be assembly plants. I tell you that Georgia 100 miles from the coast is going to be the richest part of the United States of America because it’s got the biggest opportunity for growth, and the most space. And I believe you all are smart enough to catch that and take advantage of it.”
Young, who was in King’s inner circle, cited King’s statement that he admired the good Samaritan, but he didn’t want to be one. By making conditions better for all – creating jobs – poverty gets eliminated and opportunity gets increased.
“I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they’ve been beaten up and robbed,” Young said. “I want to figure out how to change the Jericho road. Now that’s the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.