Top executive to retire after leading Ga. ports boom

Curtis Foltz is leaving the Georgia Ports Authority after 12 years with the agency, including the past six years as executive director.

The chief executive of the Georgia Ports Authority said Wednesday that he plans to step down this summer after leading the state agency during six years of explosive growth at the seaports of Savannah and Brunswick.

Curtis J. Foltz, the port authority’s executive director, announced his decision during a specially called meeting of the agency’s governing board. He plans to leave at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30.

Foltz, 55, is bowing out following the busiest year ever for Georgia’s ports, which handled a record 31.7 million tons of imports and exports in fiscal 2015. He said stepping aside was a choice he made following family discussions over the holidays.

“It’s 100 percent a decision that my wife and I made,” Foltz said. “I never really planned on retiring from the GPA. With things going as well as they’re going right now, we said let’s do it now.”

Foltz came to Georgia in 2004 as the port authority’s chief operating officer, and he was promoted to executive director in 2010. With Foltz as top executive, the Port of Savannah — the nation’s fourth-busiest container port and a big competitor for the Port of Charleston — saw business skyrocket from 2.4 million container units of imports and exports in fiscal 2009, to 3.6 million last year.

The Port of Brunswick, meanwhile, became one of the top U.S. gateways for automobile imports and exports. Brunswick moved 670,181 vehicles across its docks in fiscal 2015 — more than double the number of cars and trucks from five years earlier.

Foltz was also a key player in getting a $706 million project underway to deepen Savannah’s busy shipping channel to make room for larger cargo ships. After 16 years of waiting for studies and funding, dredging in the Savannah River began in September. The job won’t be finished until at least 2021.

The port authority’s board Wednesday elected Griff Lynch, the agency’s current chief operating officer, to succeed Foltz. Lynch has overseen day-to-day operations at Georgia’s coastal ports and inland terminals since 2011.

“The beauty of this is that it will be a very smooth transition,” Lynch said. “Curtis will be a phone call away for me, and I won’t hesitate to phone a friend when needed.”

Foltz has agreed to serve as a consultant to the ports authority for a year after leaving his job.

Meanwhile, Foltz said, he doesn’t have a new job lined up and is in no rush to find one.

“In some way, shape or form, I’ll be in the maritime logistics sector,” Foltz said. “But I don’t know what that looks like at this point.”

The Georgia Ports Authority is working with the State Ports Authority in South Carolina to build a 1,500-acre shipping terminal on the Savannah River in Jasper County. That project is in the early planning stages and could open as early as 2025.

In November, the two maritime agencies signed a new agreement that serves as a guide for the development of the $4.5 billion Jasper Ocean Terminal. The future port site is on the South Carolina side of the river, downstream from Savannah.

Jim Newsome, CEO of the SPA, wished his counterpart in Georgia “the best on his retirement and with his future endeavors.”

“We congratulate Griff Lynch on his new role as executive director and look forward to progressing the Jasper Ocean Terminal project together,” Newsome added in a statement.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.