Though charming and hospitable, Savannah knows how to roll up its sleeves and get down to business.
There's more to Savannah than meets the eye. This quintessential Southern city, oft rated one of the nation's most beautiful urban centers, is also home to a diverse economy that includes manufacturing, service, government and military, tourism, port-related distribution, and a burgeoning number of creative and technical businesses. It boasts an educated - and ever-renewing - workforce, with more than 44,000 students enrolled at a dozen colleges and universities within an hour's drive. On top of all that, the Port of Savannah serves as a major distribution hub, with spokes reaching into a 26-state region that's home to a whopping 75 percent of the U.S. population.
Savannah enjoys a strong and diversified manufacturing base. Products range from paper and forest products to chemicals, from construction equipment to food processing, and from corporate jets to drill bits. Gulfstream Aerospace is headquartered in Savannah. In fact, Gulfstream recently announced plans to expand its research and development wing into a new, 100,000-square-foot building here. Approximately 5,200 of the company's workforce of 7,500 are located in Savannah.
Gulfstream is a world-class company with a world-class product, Rick Winger, president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, said at the time. They have locations around the world and could have put this new facility anywhere. That they chose Savannah, where the company started 38 years ago, is very gratifying and validates our community to other businesses that may be considering relocation or expansion.
Fortune 500 companies with a presence in Savannah include BellSouth, Comcast, General Dynamics, Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Merck and Weyerhaeuser. In addition, a growing number of creative and technical firms are opening up shop in the city.
Savannah also boasts a well-earned reputation as a top tourist destination. Almost 17,000 area residents are employed in travel- and tourism-related jobs, catering to the millions of annual visitors (direct traveler expenditures totaled $1.7 billion in 2003, a 4.4 percent increase over the previous year) drawn to explore the city's history and beauty - a history that dates to Savannah's role as the capital of America's 13th, and final, colony.
Settled in 1733 by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, Savannah is considered America's first planned city. Unlike other colonial-era settlements - Boston and lower Manhattan (then New Amsterdam), for example - Savannah was laid out on a grid system with boulevards, parks and squares. And thanks to conscientious preservation efforts, 21 of the city's original 24 public spaces remain in existence today. Savannah's Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and remains one of the largest historic landmarks in the country, with more than 1,600 restored structures rated historically and architecturally significant within a 2.5-square-mile area.
Ironwork is one of Savannah's signature architectural attributes. Cast-iron balconies and stair railings adorn many of the homes in the Historic District. The craft has seen resurgence in popularity, as works by local crafters are displayed alongside historic elements in gated gardens sprinkled throughout the district.
Home to one of the largest art schools in the country - the Savannah College of Art and Design - Savannah is high on the arts, too, as faculty and student influence heightens its creative energy. Visitors seeking a cultural experience are sure to find something to satisfy their interest at any of the city's diverse music and arts venues.
Savannah is also famous for its Lowcountry cuisine - flavorful fare heavy on fresh native ingredients and a strong Caribbean influence passed down through the generations by the region's Gullah population, descendants of former slaves who live on the barrier islands off the South Carolina and Georgia coastline.