Op-Ed: With Supply Chain Issues Canceling Christmas, Local Ports Need a Game Plan

Rebecca Karp, CEO + Managing Principal - Karp Strategies



Continued investment is needed to ensure supply chain resiliency amid the demands of the global economy


Shipping containers stacked at the Port of New York and New Jersey.

If you haven't started your holiday shopping, you're probably already too late. That's the message we're getting over and over again this season.


Those hundreds of marooned ships we see waiting outside our nation's biggest ports, including Newark and New York—not to mention the empty shelves at grocery stores and the struggle to buy common things such as pet food—testify to a confluence of strains on our global supply chain.


The crisis started with the onset of the pandemic, as consumers increased demand while

factories closed. Supply was constrained.


Pre-Covid, however, our ports and supply chain were already in precarious positions because of decades of offshoring U.S. manufacturing and underinvesting in our ports. Now we must simultaneously address not only the immediate disruption of our supply chain because of the pandemic but also the consequences of longer-term, systemic challenges.


Taking the supply-chain crisis first: We need to create space at our ports to alleviate the pressure.


There are thoughtful ways to approach that. For example, the Biden administration should

mobilize the National Guard to construct temporary warehousing. And we can make shipping

a 24/7 operation on the East and Gulf coasts, as the administration has proposed for major

ports on the West Coast.


More made in the U.S.


Our ports need more than quick fixes, however, and places such as Newark and New York, home to the nation's second-largest port, need to invest in significant port upgrades, executed with an emphasis on ensuring the facilities are outfitted for the impacts of climate change.


The good news is much of that work is underway. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has advanced harbor-deepening initiatives and continues to move forward on investments critical to port resilience.


Ports across the country are making similar investments, and the bipartisan infrastructure package should offer some additional relief. But we need continued long-term capital investments in our ports to ensure our supply chain is resilient to the demands of our global economy.


Strategic investments can create thousands of good jobs, support essential infrastructure for our country's economic growth and recovery, and help protect our region's coastal communities from the impacts of sea-level rise.


But as I mentioned, there's one additional slow-moving crisis we must contend with to safeguard our ports and supply chain against the blockages we see today: We must at least consider what it would take to change consumption patterns and perhaps even require corporations to produce more goods in America.


Conversations between urban planners and local leaders are essential to understanding if and how the U.S. can eliminate supply chain obstacles by bringing back to this country manufacturing that went offshore decades ago. Immediate interventions combined with comprehensive, forward-thinking planning are necessary to meet the crisis at our ports in the supply chain head-on.


Although some Christmas presents might be canceled this year, investing in core infrastructure is a gift that can keep on giving for generations to come. This is the moment to commit to those investments.