Report on the Ohio Conference on Freight
The fifth annual Ohio Conference on Freight presented by TMACOG in September explored new areas in the freight transportation and logistics industry.
It wasn’t news to the trucking professionals at the conference but many of the other attendees were surprised to find out the scale of trade between Ohio and Canada. Ohio sells more to Canada than to the next 14 countries combined. Dr. Roy Norton, Canadian Consul General, noted that the U.S. exports more to the single province of Ontario than it does to all the BRIC nations ( Brazil, Russia, India, and China) combined. He also pointed out that eight million American jobs depend on the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Dr. Norton said that a new bridge is a top Canadian priority. Workshops on Canada-Ohio trade included a look at regulator differences, port to mid-continent freight movement, and the role of pipelines in supplying Canadian oil to the U.S.
Pipelines and fuel
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would increase the movement of fuel from Canada into the U.S. but there is already a busy network of pipelines connecting the two countries. Attendees got a picture of the U.S. pipeline network as a constantly flowing distribution system where fuels move from fields, to refineries, to wholesale and retail vendors. Experts explained that pipeline traffic is down 30% in the U.S. as U.S. oil wells have become less productive. Workshop speakers said that the U.S. now imports two-thirds of the oil it consumes and that number is expected to grow. Fuel is obviously a critical part of the freight transportation industry. Several speakers addressed possible changes in gasoline tax structure, changes in diesel fuel use, continuing efforts to increase fuel efficiency including double-stacking train cars. John Gray, senior vice president of the Association of American Railroads, notes that trains now move double the amount of freight on the same amount of fuel. He described this improvement as not due to leaps in innovation but to incremental improvements in planning, dispatching, and productivity.
All parts of the economy are looking at where jobs are now and where they will be in the future. A tour of the Walgreens Regional Distribution Center in Perrysburg showed that advanced mechanization and automation are key in that segment of the logistics industry. At the Walgreens facility, attendees saw vehicles without drivers navigate a warehouse, and even pull goods off shelves without an operator. Despite the amount of automation, the facility employs between 400 and 600 people. At this time and for the foreseeable future, trucks are still operated by a person in the driver’s seat. However, past chair of the American Trucking Association, Shorty Whittington described how regulations and lifestyle issues limit the number of people who can drive or want to drive for a living. He anticipates a severe shortage of drivers as the economy rebounds. In the railroad industry, John Gray from the Association of American Railroads said that hiring personnel is the slowest part of that industry to gear up. He described starting with a class of 100-plus interested people, losing 75 percent to literacy and drug testing, and losing half of the rest during actual training. Renee Marazon, superintendent of Toledo’s Maritime Academy, addresses workforce development in the maritime field starting in grade five.
Overall, the tone of the conference was of resilience. Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo, said that stewardship of the community and training a workforce is the job of the university, but the university also was committed to taking technological research to commercialization. During the prolonged economic downturn in Ohio and elsewhere, the freight industry continues to adapt while preparing for future growth. Leaders in the trucking, air cargo, water cargo, and rail sectors talked about their strategies: working to ensure that freight industry is considered in federal transportation planning and working with regional transportation planners such as TMACOG, the Ohio Association of Regional Councils, and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
See presentations from the 2011 Ohio Conference on Freight at www.Ohiofreight.org
Shorty Whittington, past chair of
American Trucking Association and President,
TMACOG President Tony Reams; Leslie Blakely,
principal of Blakey & Agnew, LLC; and UT President Lloyd Jacobs.
Attendees visit vendor booths during a break.
Featured speaker John Gray from the Association of American Railroads, Erika Young of the National Association of Regional Councils, and Bill Harris of Norfolk Southern.