There is obviously a lot of commentary coming forward regarding the recent U.S. west coast labor contract negotiations and the consequent impact to multi-industry supply chains of dysfunctional ports. Supply Chain Matters has provided its own viewpoints, but we believe it is important to share other viewpoints as well.

A thought leader that this Editor truly admires and respects in the area of logistics and transportation is Professor Yossi Sheffi, Elisha Gray II Professor of Engineering Systems and Director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Supply Chain Matters previously provided our review of Professor Sheffi’s latest book, Logistics Clusters.

Professor Sheffi recently posted a very timely Linked-In Pulse commentary, Lessons to Glean from the West Coast Port Dispute.

Sheffi observes how memories of the past 2002 west coast port disruption were short-lived, and apparently not carried forward by industry supply chain teams. He opines: “too many companies failed to take precautionary measures and response strategies well ahead of the stoppages. It’s not as if the disruptions were unexpected.” He further echoes that companies continue to march to Wall Street’s quarterly focused drumbeat.

Professor Sheffi further points out that relatively new shipping options will become available to U.S. companies in the coming years and that re-shoring strategies should be a further lesson in avoiding continued dependence on clogged west coast ports. He opines:

The lesson for Pacific ports is that they can either modernize or continue to fall behind and suffer the same, predictable outcome.”

Professor Sheffi argues for a longer view, namely strong investments in port modernization that will make cargo operations more efficient in the short term and could deter alternatives from developing over the long haul. He further challenges both port operators and organized labor to think in the future, rather than in the past.

The commentary is direct and insightful, and warrants reading, discussion and consideration.

Bob Ferrari