The recent American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) convention held in Miami may have emphasized deep sea cargo, but the lessons learned have wide applicability across multiple nodes of cargo supply chains.

Gulf Coast ports from Brownsville, Texas, to Port Manatee, Fla. (down the bay from Tampa), were well represented, as were East and West coast ports and the Great Lakes. With discussion focused on port interfaces with big vessels came conversation about the workboats involved in ship assist, cargo transfer, and harbor work.

Multiple speakers referenced the complexity of cargo logistics, including the Port of New York & New Jersey’s Bethann Rooney, whose Power Point slide that displayed a maze of interconnected wheels offered a new take on the metaphor of traditional linkages among sectors. As talk about shifting movements of oil (notably the fall-off in Bakken shipments) percolated in conversations among delegates, the comment from Ceres Terminals’ Bruce Cashon that “cargo seeks the path of least resistance” certainly resonated. Peter Friedmann, who represented agricultural shippers, talked about trade patterns that can shift dramatically and quickly.

All of these sentiments were echoed by Chip Jaenichen, administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration, in his keynote speech on the final day. His overarching message was that freight flows through U.S. ports will be expanding substantially in the coming years. Jaenichen noted that a soon-to-be-released draft of the U.S. Maritime Strategy, prepared in close consultation with industry, includes the expansion of key bulk and energy ports – as well as the big containerized cargo gateways.

I wrote recently about a related issue — the development of a National Freight Strategic Plan — that the U.S. Department of Transportaion is seeking comments on.

A collection of stories from guest authors.