The Path to a New Normal and Other Observations from My ‘Remote’ Desk
By Chris Connor
President & CEO
American Association of Port Authorities
Signs of a post pandemic ‘new normal’ are slowly beginning to emerge.
For sure, life on the other side of the “once-in-a-century” experience we’ve all been living through will be different. COVID-19 has changed much, not the least of which is how we feel about the workplace, and the need to physically work alongside our colleagues. Even the most ardent pre-COVID believers in the importance of ‘in office’ work have softened their stance. They had to, of course, but along the way have come to realize that the ‘distributed workplace’ does work.
We will see how it all plays out over the coming months, but I suspect that employers will re-think their office footprints for the longer term and that ‘office workers’ will enjoy greater flexibility in choosing where they perform their work responsibilities.
At AAPA we are opting for a hybrid model. Our new office space at 1201 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC, is significantly smaller than our old office building in Alexandria (2,900 ft2 vs. 9,000 ft2), yet we’ll still be able to meet in office as a full team, in our conference room, at the beginning of each week to organize and prioritize our work. The balance of the week will be on a rotational schedule with different departments congregating in the office on different days. The senior staff, including myself, as well as the Government Relations team will be regular fixtures in the office. We’re very excited about this new model, and by the time you read this edition of Seaports Magazine, this new model will have already started. If you’re planning a trip to Washington, DC, after June 1, please come by and see us in our new space. We would love to have you visit.
It has been interesting and at times frustrating to witness news reports on the surging import volumes at many ports, and the related congestion issues across the freight network. Two things really jump out at me:
• The media reports paint a picture that suggests the port industry is ‘rolling in the profits’ corresponding to the record volumes. What never gets reported is the fact that because of COVID-19, ports are spending significant resources to ensure a safe work environment and are doing so at the expense of operational efficiency.
• Media coverage tends to lump the industry together, while the reality is that we have many different types of ports throughout the Western Hemisphere. The wrath of COVID-19 has had an uneven effect on the industry, with many ports negatively impacted financially and still suffering.
My takeaway from all of this? It’s important that we look at the pandemic through an industry lens and with less focus about how individual ports weathered the storm. Of course, there are ports that have managed well through this crisis, and that’s great. But a strong port industry – across all cargo types and sectors and throughout the Western Hemisphere – is critical to all our communities now and forever.
In the United States, infrastructure has been another dominant news issue in recent weeks. It’s encouraging to see and hear the new Administration speak so clearly to the need for infrastructure at ports. Perhaps the best news of all is that even the Republican counter proposal to the American Jobs Plan recommends the same $17 billion in funding for ports as the White House. Hopefully, that’s a good sign the investment in ports will have bipartisan support.
Don’t forget to hold the date September 26-29 for the AAPA Annual Convention & Expo in Austin, Texas. We are working hard to put together a world-class program, and we are so excited about holding an in-person event again. Go online and register now at www.aapaAustin2021.org. We’ll see you in Austin!