For port cities, slowdown in global trade hits home

As a share of gross domestic product, consumer spending may fall 10% from peak to trough, says Rogoff, the former IMF chief economist now teaching at Harvard University. That would mean a drop of about $1.4 trillion in annual consumption leading to far fewer goods flowing through the port to department stores and do-it-yourself outlets across the Southeast.

Savannah in recent years has counted on continual expansion, setting a goal of handling 6.5 million shipping containers by 2017. Eager developers at the height of the boom erected warehouses as speculative ventures. Today, the unused storage space is equivalent to 69 football fields.

Marchand says the port itself isn't overbuilt and is positioned for eventual recovery. Savannah in February received four of the industry's most modern cranes, capable of hefting 65 tons of cargo from ship to shore. Ample empty space surrounds the main terminal, and plans for expansion already have been drawn.

As he awaits the first glimmers of an economic dawn, Marchand is shrinking costs by reducing gate opening hours, eliminating overtime and deferring non-essential maintenance and travel.

"We've managed to weather this thing so far," Marchand says. "Certainly, we all hope it doesn't get any worse."

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