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Supply chain issues persist; La. port hopes to be an alternative to congested ports

The trucker shortage continues nationwide
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 6:23 PM CST
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The Port of South Louisiana along the Mississippi River.
The Port of South Louisiana along the Mississippi River.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Supply chain issues blamed on the pandemic are being exacerbated by the easy-to-spread Omicron variant but a sprawling local port believes it is positioned to be an alternative to some other ports that are continuing to experience major congestion problems.

Ports are critical to the global economy and the Port of South Louisiana plays a big role.

Paul Matthews is executive director of the Port of South Louisiana.

“We are the largest tonnage port in the state and one of the largest tonnage ports in the world, so on the Mississippi River, we have major refineries and over a hundred million tons of grain which is exported throughout the world. As a matter of fact, 60% of the U.S. exported grain comes through the Port of South Louisiana,” said Matthews.

COVID-19 continues to put pressure on the U.S. workforce and the supply chain. Still, Matthews says the port he oversees is holding its own.

“Even in the last two years of this global pandemic, the Port of South Louisiana has not been impacted in any significant way with COVID. What we’ve been focused on, frankly, is trying to be a viable alternative to the congestion that’s going on, on the West Coast. So, we think with our infrastructure developments over the past few years that we are a viable alternative,” said Matthews.

But it is not just ships, barges, and cranes involved in getting goods to consumers, truckers are also a huge part of the equation. And across the country, there remains a shortage of truckers.

“That’s one thing, we need people to work but they don’t want to work,” said Jose Sandoval, a longtime trucker.

Matthews also recognizes the trucker issues.

“We understand the shortage, the national shortage of truckers but we are working closely with the American Trucking Association to make sure that we find ways to partner, so that we can have our truckers here,” said Matthews.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, is frustrated over inflation and the federal government’s COVID response.

“Inadequate COVID response has meant that more workers are staying at home, so therefore there’s fewer truckers, fewer people to put goods on the shelf, fewer people to move goods around and so that has hurt supply,” said Cassidy.

And Cassidy wants so-called reshoring of manufacturing that went to China.

“As regards our dependence upon China for goods shipped here, I’m a big believer that we should be reshoring the manufacturing that has gone to Asia back to Americas, it might now be to the United States but if it’s in Mexico and it’s coming across the Gulf of Mexico into the Port of New Orleans or into the Port of St. Mary’s that is better for us than if it’s coming across the Pacific,” said Cassidy.

Matthews says efficiency at ports is key to addressing supply chain problems.

“At the end of the day, it’s about if we can find a better way to move that cargo instead of putting it on the West Coast, if we could get it through the Panama Canal, up the Mississippi River to our ports and the ports of Louisiana I promise you those products will be on the shelves a lot quicker,” said Matthews.

A spokesperson for the Port of New Orleans said that the port still has capacity and is not seeing disruptions like ports on the East and West Coast. Meanwhile, during a nearly two-hour press conference on Wednesday President Biden acknowledged Americans are frustrated over higher prices and he said he has called on the Federal Reserve to do more to drive down inflation.

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