Port Leaders Optimistic Over Funding, Supply Chain

AAPA's Chris Connor
“A result [of the pandemic], we are in the early stages of a generational opportunity to build out port and intermodal connectivity," says American Association of Port Authorities CEO Chris Connor. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

ORLANDO, Fla. — With an influx of funds expected to exceed $25 billion for rebuilding and expansion, the nation’s coastal and inland facilities are beginning a “golden age,” port leaders say.

This infusion of local, state and federal money comes as the importance of ports and the supply chain has been made manifest by the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the assessment of officials from dozens of facilities who met Oct. 16-19 at the American Association of Port Authorities’ annual meeting.

“Let’s face it, the COVID-19 crisis brought unprecedented attention to ports,” Chris Connor, CEO of AAPA, told attendees at the opening ceremony. “A result, we are in the early stages of a generational opportunity to build out port and intermodal connectivity that is more efficient, resilient and cleaner than ever before.”

Port leaders point out that during the 2½ years of the pandemic, facilities handled 27% more cargo than they did pre-pandemic, especially as imports from Asia surged as Americans often worked from home. Online purchases soared from about 11% in 2019 to what is predicted to be 22% in 2025, according to market and consumer data provider Statista.

I was impressed by and proud of the way we stepped up to the historic buying surge triggered by the pandemic.

American Association of Port Authorities CEO Chris Connor

“I was impressed by and proud of the way we stepped up to the historic buying surge triggered by the pandemic,” Connor said. “I visited the ports around the country and throughout the hemisphere. Those workers rolled up their collective sleeves and found ways to push upward of 20% more cargo through gateways at work.”

But Connor and others said help is on the way. The biggest chunk of money is coming from the federal government, with more than $17.2 billion designated for dredging shipping channels, purchasing more cranes, improving highway and road access for truck drivers, and expanding intermodal rail. Billions more are expected to be available from states and private sector investment.


TT's Eugene Mulero joins host Mike Freeze to discuss the midterm elections, and what the fight for control of Congress will mean for trucking. Tune in above or by going to RoadSigns.ttnews.com.

Several sessions were held in which AAPA members could learn about streamlining their grant applications and how to make them more competitive.

Outgoing Chairman Mario Cordero, who also is the Port of Long Beach executive director, said the funds are proof that policy leaders nationwide are coming to recognize the importance of the port system.

“They are recognizing the supply chain and the vital role of the American workforce and the need for investment in our system,” Cordero said. “In the past year, we have witnessed historical legislation in the form of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal, signed into law by President Biden, which earmarks $17 billion to the ports.”

Cordero and Connor noted that in the past year, Cabinet members and other officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Supply Chain Envoy Stephen Lyons have made numerous visits to port complexes to discuss ways to solve supply chain problems.

In the past several months, Lyons has become more visible in his role, including speaking at the Association for Supply Chain Management conference in Chicago last month, and on Oct. 18, addressing the AAPA delegates. Lyons said he believes the overall health of the U.S. economy rests on how well the ports are doing.

“There is never a time that’s been more important for this association to come together and unify the effort of what the future should look like, and what essentially equates to American prosperity,” Lyons said.

He also updated the delegates on the status of two critical labor negotiations. With regard to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and talks with the Pacific Maritime Association, Lyons is optimistic a long-term agreement will be reached without a labor disruption.

He also believes a nationwide freight rail deal will be struck but that there will be challenges. One craft union has rejected the contract, but Lyons said he’s hopeful that the entire pact can be ratified this year.

At the conference, Cordero finished his two-year term as chairman and was succeeded by the CEO of the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, Sean Strawbridge. He told attendees he will continue to inform people of the importance of the ports and the people who deliver the goods that move through those facilities.

“The term supply chain, you hear a lot about that now,” Strawbridge said. “You know, you go to the store and they all have something to say. What are they going to do to fix the supply chain? So, everybody now knows the term supply chain. It’s in the mainstream vernacular. I’m not sure they know exactly what it means for sure, but they know what the issues are. These are complex issues that will have to be addressed.”

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: