Two blue chip players in today’s global supply chain marketplace announced that they plan to introduce a “transformational” service designed to expedite ocean cargo shipping and mitigate risk.
The ongoing congestion and labor issues that are plaguing Los Angeles and now all other U.S. West Coast Ports would seem to me about to reach catastrophic levels and potentially greatly weaken the U.S. Economy in 2015. But it is interesting to me, in talking with friends and relatives not in the Logistics Industry, how little any of this is hitting the news. With all the violence in the world dominating the nightly and other news programs this issue has been slow in developing for seemingly most of the country.
Perhaps it is quite different out West. I traveled to California back in October and it was obvious that most in my company were much more knowledgeable than my East coast colleagues. But due to I spent most of my time on this trip with others in the Logistics Industry it would be interesting to know the average West coast person’s take on the situation.
I had two experiences recently that highlighted how little is known by people working outside the realm of Logistics. Two weeks ago I served jury duty. While sitting in the jury selection/waiting room, I struck up conversations with 2 very sharp people. One was a retired engineer that had spent most of his life in the textile industry. Another was a very well informed person from the woodworking industry. Neither of them were aware that there were any issues with the ports. I find it most interesting that the retired person from the textile industry was not familiar, due to globalization greatly affected his industry. But, once one retires, it would be somewhat expected that one would lose touch.
The other experience was in my Homeowner’s Association Board Meeting. I serve as Secretary. The other members of our Board include a Plumbing Contractor/Engineer, a Financial Specialist, an IT/Computer Network Specialist, a Real Estate Agent and our Association Manager. Making some small talk before our meeting I spoke a little about the situation. None were familiar with the situation. In fact, the IT/Computer remarked that it had taken 25 days for him to receive a part that he had to order from China. He remarked “and that was express!” But I gathered that it was not air freight due to he had been offered that as an option but it was too expensive. I didn’t go into a lot of detail but mentioned to him that it was almost nothing short of a miracle that it had arrived so quickly.
Please note that I have a tremendous amount of respect for each one of these people. It is simply an observation that the news of the issues out West have not hit the mainstream press. So at least in the Eastern part of the country the information has been slow to trickle out. I expect that to change dramatically in the coming days.
For 2 excellent articles about the situation, please see this link from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-shippers-suspend-weekend-cargo-loading-at-us-west-coast-ports-2015-2 and http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-02-05/catastrophic-shutdown-americas-supply-chain-looms-west-coast-port-worker-talks-break
I just completed reading Beth Macy’s non-fiction book, Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town. Recently reviewed by the New York Times, it chronicles the Bassett Family and the town of Bassett, Virginia. It tells of how globalization has adversely affected the working class of the Unites States.
The book is of personal significance for me. I grew up in Bassett and then later Galax, Virginia, both furniture manufacturing towns. There is much that Beth Macy has put into perspective that until now, I never completely understood. My father worked for Bassett and then later Vaughan Furniture and is quoted in Factory Man several times. We moved from Galax when I was 13, relocating to High Point, North Carolina as my he took on a new role working for a different furniture company, and I lost touch with the area. So although I knew much of the information and stories referenced in this book, it was absolutely fascinating to have someone able to provide broader perspective as completely as Beth Macy has done.
But much more significantly, Factory Man tells the story of the displaced American worker. It is a saga that could easily have been about any number of Southern towns. My wife and I currently reside in Greensboro, North Carolina. Our home is in the shadow of once booming textile factories. Many of our neighbors were displaced from these factories after having generations of their family members work there. Some of these people are having a very difficult time surviving.
It’s a great business story, but it’s also character-driven as it recounts the trials and tribulations of John Bassett III, grandson of the founders of Bassett Furniture. It tells of his taking on globalization, saving the factory and company of Vaughan-Bassett. It reaffirms that given the tools and equipment, the American worker can compete with anyone.
I find it ironic that in order to survive and make a living in the area where I live, I find myself working in the world of logistics. I got into this field mostly because it was an area of business that has fascinated me since college. But interestingly, one of my chief duties is helping people in the United States find better, faster, and less expensive ways of getting their imports in from Asia. The people most like my father and grandfather, who both made their living from being tied to the manufacturing industry, now live in an entirely different culture and speak a different language.
On another personal note, the story of John Bassett III has been inspirational for me. His work ethic, determination and drive have helped me to be a better leader in my work.