Disturbances in the Force

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“I sense a disturbance in the force, the supply chain force,” said moderator Agile Business Media’s Gary Master at the education session in DC Velocity's Transportation & Logistics Theater entitled, “Supply Chain Disruption: What Are the Next Steps for Transportation Leaders.” Masters and a “star-studded cast” of panelists addressed this disturbance from the angles of planes, trains, ports and in-a-class-all-its-own Amazon, as well as gave attendees a look into how each of these pieces in the supply chain impact each other and, in turn, are impacted by disruption. 

-Planes: Elliot Paige, director for air service development, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
-Trains: D’Andrae Larry, group VP of international intermodal at Norfolk Southern
-Ports: Stacy B. Watson, director of economic development, Georgia Ports Authority
-Amazon: Jim Ruiz, director with Amazon Freight 

Whether working on land, sea, air or all of the above, there were multiple touchpoints that were cross-modal. The idea of adding capacity was one of them. It infiltrated many of the conversations and was a common thread that tied each one together. Watson said Georgia Ports Authority is investing to add capacity and the ability to move more containers. Paige said the airport is expanding its capacity because “in order for us to grow we have to have more capacity.” They even have a current RFP to develop 53 acres of greenfield for an air cargo city capable of parking 8-10 aircraft and hundreds of trucks. Amazon’s Ruiz talked about volume density and third-party truckload carriers not being able to scale with them, so Amazon invested in 33,000 trailers. They also have Amazon Freight Partners, where entrepreneurs can start a trucking business that can grow alongside Amazon, adding additional trucking capacity to Amazon’s already expansive fleet. Amazon provides training and helps them recruit, too, said Ruiz. In rail, capacity is also expanding said Larry. Where they used to move just three types of goods―coal, grain and industrial products―they’ve added a fourth: intermodal. “The market wants us to be a bigger player in the intermodal space,” said Larry. “Our customers are demanding optionality.  People don’t want just redundancy, they want optionality.”

“And the people are fundamentally important,” said Paige. When it comes to the air service, he explained, one of the most important things is the people, whether the staff or passengers or stakeholders. “It is the customers who are driving us to do the things we do,” said Ruiz about how Amazon views the importance of people. Paige added, “If you solve everything else, you solve the people problem.” 

But, to keep people problems to a minimum, communication is integral. Larry said they have had to expand their avenues of communication with their customers lately. “We’ve learned we have to more purposeful and strategic with our conversations with our stakeholders.”

Labor is also a common thread among these different segments of the supply chain. Watson said the one thing that keeps him up at night is the workforce. They even hired a workforce consultant and did a study that focused on supply chain logistics and employment in the Savannah region to look at areas they may have been overlooking.  Then they broke it down into short-term and long-term issues so it wasn’t too big to manage. They also started a YES program for youth about three years ago and have seen positive results already.  

At Norfolk, Larry said they have found that “the more productive we can be, the less labor that we need,” which is helping their labor issues. Also, they are reducing their labor needs by coming up with creative ideas such as using positive train control cameras to double as track inspectors.  

The education session wrapped up with each panelist sharing some top tips, which included embracing optionality, challenging the norms, utilizing IPI a bit more, becoming evangelists for using more technology, and utilizing capacity.


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