Ports’ Power as Conveners

By Sandy Smith


The world of shipping is undergoing a sea change with consolidation, larger ships and economic pressures. And that’s just the water side. On land, the same financial pressures await.

So what role can a port play in solving these broader supply chain issues? A lot. Take the Port of Halifax, for instance. In the midst of its master planning, the port is working with the local municipality and transportation services company CN to solve another issue: truck traffic in the city.

“The port is a major economic generator for the city and the region,” said Paul MacIsaac, senior vice president, Halifax (NS) Port Authority. “We’re a key cog in the overall supply chain. It’s important that our shipping lines are in agreement and concur with our plans, that our terminal operators are in a position to operate the infrastructure we would build, that the land side would be ready so that cargo moves fluidly. It’s important that it’s all coordinated so that we don’t end up with something that isn’t effective.”

That same emphasis on working together is what has happened over the last 18 months at the Port of Mobile (AL), said Dan Bresolin, assistant vice president, international sales for transportation company CN. “We have successfully worked very close with the Alabama State Port Authority in conjunction with APMT to develop a comprehensive inland transportation plan to support the new Intermodal Container Transfer Facility that was opened on
May 1, 2016.”

But supply chain leadership – and the important role that ports can and should play in it – extends well beyond master planning or an expansion.

“Ports are beginning to realize the crucial importance of working together with their supply chains to boost everyone’s efficiency and trade flow,” said Rick Blasgen, chair of the Federal Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness and president and CEO of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. “They are natural allies with all other stakeholders in the broader supply chain since they are a node. They are a very important part that enables global trade.”

In many ways, it means getting into the businesses that operate within the port, whether it is terminal operators, cargo owners or transportation companies.

“The port is a key conduit within the shipping and transportation industry and must be aligned with the challenges and opportunities of the gateway,” Bresolin said. “Our customers’ expectations are focused on overall supply chain costs, fluidity and reliability of the gateway. That includes multiple segments, such as container handling, empty and loaded container storage, warehousing, truck and rail transportation.”

It is not a perfect system, to be sure. But several innovative programs and philosophies show how it can be done….

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