During a break at the National Industrial Transportation League's annual policy forum last month, a logistics executive for a major manufacturer asked me if I believed our readers understood the severity of the infrastructure crisis facing the nation.
My answer was that I thought so. Anyone who manages the flow of goods into and out of the nation's DCs could hardly be unaware of the early manifestations of a looming crisis: the West Coast ports shutdown in 2004, the truck capacity shortage in 2004 and 2005, the sluggish pace of rail intermodal service.
Yet it was a pertinent question. He's worried that his colleagues may not feel the same sense of urgency he feels. And he's concerned that even those who should understand may not realize how severely we've overtaxed the U.S. transportation system.
And if not the nation's DC executives, then who? Certainly not the policy makers or the general public. Consumers remain largely unaware of the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep them supplied with clothing, DVDs and groceries. Readers of this magazine know that virtually everything that touches our lives is delivered to us via the logistics network. But most citizens think about logistics only when something goes awry—when a package is lost or late, or when they find themselves stuck behind a truck, or when they hear about something like the Dubai ports debacle on the evening news.
That last suggests just how high a hill we have yet to climb. The general news coverage of the Dubai ports issue was abysmally incompetent, buying into xenophobic fear mongering. And the fallout could well be greater restrictions on foreign investment in our logistics infrastructure—an infrastructure that is already creaking under the strain. That would be tantamount to sending a crew out to dig potholes in the nation's roads.
Don Schneider, chairman of Schneider National, has long considered the logistics profession to be one of the great enablers of American prosperity. That's a message that we all have to spread now. It will be no easy task to educate the public or members of Congress about the implications of clogged ports, sluggish rail service or a shortage of trucks. But we have no other choice. Investment in the nation's roads, ports and rails is nothing less than an imperative for our economic well being.