So much to say, so little space

So much to say, so little space

As the newest columnist at The Journal of Commerce, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Barry Horowitz, and for the past 2 1/2 years, I have been working at the Port of Portland, Ore.

In my 37-year career, I have worked for carriers, 3PLs and shippers and have done some consulting. I wrote periodically for The Journal of Commerce in the mid- to late-1990s - back when the JoC was a daily newspaper - and I'm delighted to be back. It's an honor to have the opportunity to contribute again.

Perhaps the most difficult decision a columnist has as each deadline approaches is deciding what to write about. For many writers, the problem is the absence of subject matter. For me, the issue is different: There are so many subjects of interest, such a wide range of activities - business sectors; functional and process issues; political and regulatory complications; local, regional, national and international variations - that the monthly problem will be not so much determining what to write about, but rather how to select from the myriad of topics. As the British would say, "We're spoilt for choice." I'll do my best to keep it interesting, topical and as edgy as my editors will allow.

For this first column, I ran through the following list of possible subjects:

-- My first trip to South America, which included visits to the ports of Valparaiso and San Antonio, Chile, as well as carriers and shippers in Santiago. The market between the west coast of South America and the Pacific Northwest is not well known, but it is very interesting. Finished and semifinished wood products are a key mover - northbound - as are counter-seasonal agricultural products and wine. Who knew? This to say nothing of my personal time in the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Amazon basin.

-- The sudden shifts in the trans-Pacific import and export markets between the first and second halves of 2007. The implications of this rapid market flip - imports flat or down, exports way up - will be felt throughout 2008 and perhaps beyond. What happened and why?

-- The struggle of ocean carriers to secure rate increases from shippers to pay for the dramatic increases in their costs of fuel and domestic U.S. rail charges. Importers and exporters are resisting. Ports are imposing charges for a variety of costs, including environmental cleanup and protection, and infrastructure development and maintenance. Importers and exporters are resisting. As the dollar falls and the economy slows, import volume is shrinking, and carriers are reducing service strings and capacity at the same time. Export volumes are rising, but equipment is scarce, and exporters are screaming as space is as unavailable as boxes. Did anyone have this turnaround in their 2007-08 budget?

-- Security and the Transporta-tion Worker Identification Credential. China's problems are getting more attention, and no one really knows what the impact of the factory slowdowns and closures for the Summer Olympics will be. Is India the next China? If so, when? If not, who will be? Vietnam? Eastern Europe? South America?

-- Carrier consolidation. Is more in the works? Could a purchase by APL (Temasek Holdings) of Hapag-Lloyd (TUI) be the next move? Will the major changes at Maersk (its reorganization, new CEO, major staff reduction) get the world's largest carrier back on track, or will further changes be required?

-- Infrastructure investment in ports. Spending has slowed from its earlier frantic pace, but all accounts indicate that billions of dollars are still available. There will be more deals, but who is next in line?

-- The aging work force. Our industry is dominated by people with more gray hair than me. Who's next in line when we start collecting Social Security? Training programs are few and far between, and, sorry to say, you can only learn so much in school.

See what I mean? I've run out of space and never picked a topic, but I did ask a lot of questions. You should expect more of the same: "I've Got a Question for You" is my column title, and I hope I can keep you reading and thinking about what we're up to and where our business is going over the months (and years) ahead.