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AAPA Seaports Magazine, March 2019: Navigating Toward an Uncertain Future

FROM THE PRESIDENT’S DESK: Navigating Toward an Uncertain Future

*  By Kurt J. Nagle, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities *

I just recently returned from speaking at an infrastructure forum in New York. A group of investors wanted to hear about the current state of ports and their private sector partners, the forecast for trade and tariffs and infrastructure investment opportunities. As I was preparing my remarks it occurred to me that lately every presentation I give is at least partly focused on predicting the future.

While I am not a fortune teller, I can guarantee that the future holds many uncertainties. That is not to say that an uncertain future is a harbinger of bad things. Rather, it provides motivation to look closely at the forecasts and predictions and incorporate these findings into solid planning. It is not always possible to prepare for what lies ahead. In fact, we may have to wait for more information to reveal itself before we can take action. However, one thing is clear – you are not alone. It should be comforting to know that together as an industry, our collective knowledge of the future helps us make assumptions and more accurately predict what is to come.

There is no shortage of challenges, uncertainties and unknowns on the horizon; however, there is one thing I do know. AAPA’s core mission of connecting and informing seaports is unchanged. Our best defense against the unknown is our ability as an organization to inform our members of what is on the horizon by monitoring the issues, analyzing the information and communicating it through our various platforms. This issue of Seaports magazine is dedicated to revealing the uncertainties that affect our industry so that ports have the information they need to plan for the future.

This first quarter issue goes in depth to capture the thoughts and projections of our industry experts. In each article, our authors focus on different aspects of the challenges that surround us. They begin by exploring issues that ports have little to no control over such as rising sea levels and climate change. While there is no question these issues may have devastating impacts on the port and coastal environment, by understanding the risks, ports have the opportunity to build flexibility into their planning to ensure resiliency.

Shifting demographics also affect the way ports meet the needs of their communities and significantly impact the supply chain. From dense urban areas to megaregions within the continent, cargo moves toward the demand. Seaports that can provide unique access to goods have the upper hand. Demographics should be evaluated as part of a comprehensive analysis of external factors and no one factor should be viewed in a vacuum.

Further, without institutional credibility ports have a more difficult time implementing plans without the buy in and engagement of their community and stakeholders. Ports are in the spotlight now more than ever before. In some ways more awareness of the value of ports is a really good thing, however it also means that ports have a social responsibility to include communities in port planning. It is critical that seaports are creating opportunities for their customers and communities to get involved and engaged.

The global outlook for ports is also ambiguous. Shifting trade patterns, an uncertain global economy, market volatility, shipping alliances and up-and-down trade negotiations force ports to monitor trends like never before. The uncertainty with tariffs alone has led to market glut and increasing costs when purchasing equipment and embarking on new construction projects.

This issue of Seaports magazine navigates readers through a labyrinth of uncertainties. As your Association, it is our job to provide you with the latest trends and a clear picture of what lies ahead. However, it does not end there. Industry collaboration through AAPA also provides you with best practices, solutions and opportunities. Together, let us navigate a steady path to the future.

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