This year will be a blueprint for what “normal” will look like over the next several years as industries and nations either make headway toward economic recovery or remain mired in recession.
On the one hand, cargo volumes rebounded considerably in 2010, a trend we hope will continue. Feeling optimistic, some shipping lines are even placing orders for new vessels. We also are collaborating with regional business stakeholders to support the National Export Initiative, and we think there will be positive returns on this investment.
But many small businesses still are struggling, hampering job creation. Governments are also reining in spending. The federal stimulus is about exhausted, and the trend to reduced federal spending seems likely to continue with the next Congress, even though freight may stay on the agenda given its national importance.
At the local and state levels, debt and deficit problems are pervasive, and tighter budgets can impact port communities in a variety of ways. In response, we are tightening our belt in terms of operating expenses in order to allow for the capital expansion that provides future growth and creates jobs. We take every opportunity to underscore this focus to policymakers so they understand how our investments benefit the economic recovery and long-term business outlook.
The situation creates a paradox between the optimistic aspirations for recovery and the pessimistic reality of the new era of limitations. Before we had certain growth; then certain gloom and doom. For 2011, the only certainty may be uncertainty. The best ports will be nimble enough to keep advancing long-term initiatives, but also position themselves as best they can for business opportunities in the interim. We call that working on today, but focusing on tomorrow.