Crossroads: Dealing with America’s supply-chain woes

The question is: As to the supply-chain crisis, why did we not see this coming well beforehand? In one such on-air report, one person interviewed regarding the time it took to off-load a container sitting on any of the legion of container ships apparently that have dropped anchor in the waters off the southern California coast, to either arrive at the Port of Long Beach or Port of Los Angeles and be off-loaded and thus made available for either truck or train delivery was, at that time, responded, if I recall correctly, saying it was nine days.

Meanwhile, videos accompanying reports along these lines often show long queues of trucks dockside attempting to get in and out of the seaport terminal complex or the myriad container-carrying ocean-going vessels waiting offshore for their respective turns to berth, all the while the big rigs and container ships themselves presumably with engines running all the while concomitant pollutant emissions continuously being discharged into the surrounding air.

One may wondering how conditions affecting import/export flow here became as sluggish as it has.

To try to pin the problem on just one component or element seems a little foolish; more than a little, actually. In actuality, attributing to this crisis are multiple factors.

That said, the whole supply-chain apparatus obviously is only as strong as its weakest link. And, to get operations running smoothly again, this will require first identifying and then rectifying those aspects responsible for causing conditions to be bogged down the way they are.

Speaking to this, there appears to be a serious shortage of qualified truck drivers needed to move the containerized lading fast enough. Automation in the form of driverless big-rig operation could help address this issue. But that solution implemented on a scale large enough to eliminate the import/export backlog is presumably years away at the earliest as there currently are but few examples in the country where goods movement handled autonomously using trucks is in effect. Therefore, the hiring of more qualified tractor-trailer-truck drivers in the meantime seems the proper and appropriate action to take to help get at the root of the problem.

Next, based on what I have heard via news reports, indications are there is an insufficient amount of warehouse space necessary to store all of the product that has to be unloaded, before being sorted and then sent on to its final destination, at least that’s the way I understand it. The building of new warehouses and distribution centers or just enlarging what already exists would help remedy that limitation. But that requires capital, time and in some cases, additional parcel acquisition.

Limited port capacity is another restriction. Expanding port size is one answer. Opening brand new ports is another. In California, tossed around has been this idea of opening a new port facility in the northern part of the state at Fort Bragg. It is my understanding that the draft depth needed to accommodate large container ships at that location is there thus obviating the need for any dredging. And, there is also rail access. Furthermore, in San Luis Obispo County, one possible port candidate is Port San Luis as it was once used in this way as the name would suggest. All of these offer alternative solutions.

Finally, just buying fewer goods made overseas could go a long ways toward reducing a lot of the existing backlog. Eliminating all of it can’t be done overnight: It will take time to get supply-chain matters back on track and conditions made fluid once more.

In the meantime, patience is golden here as there will be delays in deliveries of some items.

And as far as the pollutant emissions outputted from idling road-based and sea-based modes connected with this crisis go, unfortunately, this will continue for the time being.

– Alan Kandel

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