STATE POPULATION SURGE FUELS NEED FOR IMPORTS

STATE POPULATION SURGE FUELS NEED FOR IMPORTS

At the Georgia state port facility in Brunswick, Mitsubishis, Saabs, Land Rovers, Toyotas and other imported cars hit American soil for the first time, headed for dealerships in the United States.

In nearby Savannah, ships carrying cocoa beans from Indonesia supply the basic ingredient for American-made chocolate. Then there is wine from Europe. VCRs, television sets and radios arrive from the Far East.At Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, fresh-cut flowers, fruits, vegetables and other perishable items are flown in from South America.

While touting a growing export market in Georgia, imports continue to post healthy gains as well, fueled by a robust economy and a growing population.

In fact, the state imports almost as much as it ships to other countries.

According to Wachovia Bank's annual Georgia World Trade Index, in 1994 Georgia exported $9.9 billion in goods and imported $9.7 billion.

The latest Wachovia numbers show that in the second quarter of 1995, both exports and imports rose. Exports were up 35.6 percent over the same period last year, totaling $3.2 billion. Imports were up 16 percent, totaling $2.86 billion. That gave the state a $336 million trade surplus for the quarter.

But imports and exports are discussed in much different terms in Georgia.

In general, detailed, state-by-state information on imports is more difficult to obtain than on exports.

State industry and trade officials tout exports for the jobs they create.

Imports are a much more sensitive topic.

With imports, it has been argued, U.S. jobs are being displaced. But the economic impact of imports, either negative or positive, is more difficult to quantify than for exports, trade officials say.

For example, it is easy to detail the number of people employed by a Georgia manufacturing plant with heavy sales overseas. Less tangible is the number of U.S. jobs that are displaced when a consumer chooses a Toyota over a Ford.

For port officials, imports and exports sometimes complement each other.

Officials at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, for example, have traveled to South America to drum up business for the airport's Perishables and Equine Center, which handles imported fruits, vegetables and other products.

At the Port of Savannah, a new Home Depot facility is in the works to handle imported products from throughout the world. Port officials are hoping to fill the empty containers with Georgia export products.

''You don't get paid to carry that ship back across the water empty," said Doug J. Marchand, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, citing the benefit of the deal for shippers.

But there is a problem.

''We need more imports," said Mr. Marchand. "We have an imbalance."

Mr. Marchand said the overall healthy state of Georgia's economy means there will likely be more demand for overseas consumer products, such as electronics. Metropolitan Atlanta in particular, is growing rapidly and, he said, "The population growth we're realizing is fueling the need for additional imports."