Outgoing AAPA CEO Sets a Course for Success, as New Leader Takes the Helm

From The Front Lines
chris connor

Ports compete with one another for cargo and customers, but the port industry competes with countless other industries for federal dollars. Unity and solidarity amongst ports is essential for continued success.

As you read this column, my last day as CEO of AAPA will have passed, and a new leader of the industry association will be in place.

It has been an honor and a privilege to work for AAPA these last four years. Notwithstanding the 38 years of global transportation and logistics experience I brought to the role, I feel like I have learned more about freight movement during the last four years than I did in the previous 38. Clearly, the global pandemic – and the impact it had on supply chains generally, and goods movement through ports specifically – had a lot to do with my late career learning surge.

Ports were front and center in the daily narrative, and everyone from your corner grocer, specialty retailer, hardware store owner, and next-door neighbor wanted to talk about goods movement and the role of ports.

The lack of understanding about the causes of the pandemic-driven freight mobility challenges, and the complexities therein was stunning. Most people really didn’t – and still don’t – understand the interdependent system of systems that make goods movement possible. Social acquaintances always asked me, “what was going on with ports.” When I would start to drill down and explain the issues, their eyes would glass over. More recently, these same folks pass along congratulatory comments on how we “fixed” the port problem. When I tell them that the only thing that has really changed thus far is that demand has fallen off to pre-pandemic levels, they seem a bit surprised.

As port industry people we know that improved infrastructure is indeed coming, but that the first dollar from the stepped-up port funding included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) hasn’t touched a shovel yet.

Regardless, our industry will benefit from all the attention ports received, which has already resulted in historic funding from the federal government. It’s now critical that we don’t let our elected officials forget how vulnerable an under-invested-in port system can be when unforeseen events occur. This is particularly important because we can already see a weakening of support – witness the House majority proposals to eliminate the annual appropriations for the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) in favor of selected earmarks, totaling significantly less dollars – so we must remain ever vigilant in our messaging to Congress.

The realities of the political process and the electoral cycle are such that the port industry must be strongly aligned and well-coordinated on policy and legislation, particularly as it relates to federal funding and federal grant programs. We are so much stronger when we act together and are united. Yes, I know that ports compete fiercely with one another for cargo – and that’s as it should be. But, at the same time, we need to be resolute in our solidarity when it comes to competing for limited resources against the backdrop of well-organized and well-financed industry and special interest groups. Congress loves it when they can see and sense that a particular industry is not aligned and organized on policy. This allows them to kick the can down the road and do nothing. Always remember: AAPA is Essential. Resilient. United.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the board of directors whom I have served over the last four years for their unwavering support of AAPA and its mission. Moreover, I’d like to thank the search committee assembled back in the spring and summer of 2019 for hiring me and giving me the opportunity to serve the association. Will Friedman, Gary Nelson, Mark McAndrews, Rich Hendrick, Jim Quinn, Cathie Vick, Kristen Decas, Chett Chiasson: Thank you all for the confidence and the opportunity. Thanks also to the late, great Tim McNamara for bringing me into the search process.

It’s also been an awesome experience for me to work with so many dedicated and determined AAPA staff. A special thanks to the current lineup of very talented individuals, but also to all of those who came before them.

And finally, a few words about the new President and CEO of AAPA, Cary Davis.

Cary was my first hire after I arrived at AAPA in 2019. He’s a special talent, with incredible energy and a passion for doing right on behalf of the port industry. He’s smart and articulate, and isn’t afraid to fight for what’s right for our ports and our membership. He understands the political system well, and he knows how “the sausage gets made” when it comes to relevant legislative policy. Cary is tenacious and has been a stalwart playing both offense and defense on matters of critical importance to our industry. He has natural leadership skills and I know that the AAPA staff will rally behind him and follow his direction and example as they have mine. In short, the AAPA board has chosen well, and I’m confident the industry association is positioned to flourish for many years to come with Cary at the helm.

Farewell and Godspeed to one and all.