January 2012 | Commentary | Checking In

A Lost Art?

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Transportation Infrastructure, Legislation, Public Policy, and Regulations

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

Strength of will. Toughness. The refusal to be deterred from the goal no matter what impediments stand in the way. Do we have much of that in our culture today? In our leaders? In our own businesses?

Retracing the Trails of the Iron Horse takes us back to a simpler time in America's past, where strength of will, toughness, and an indomitable drive to succeed helped create a fundamental part of the transportation network that fuels much of our economic success today. The underpinning of that effort more than 150 years ago was a concept called Manifest Destiny—"to overspread and possess the whole of the continent for the development of our great experiment in liberty and self-government." That call motivated strong-willed people to create pathways of commerce and growth where none existed before. Sadly, that concept has fallen out of favor in some quarters these days.

Is it just the varnish of history that makes the past seem so different from today? Or have we truly lost something in the intervening years that could drive us to a fuller measure of economic success?

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell seems to think so. "Policy-makers in Washington need to make smart infrastructure investments a priority because if we don't, we will only fall further behind the rest of the world," he said in a recent speech. He was specifically referring to a World Economic Forum report that concluded, among other troubling findings, that while the United States is the number-one global economic market, it ranks 23rd in port infrastructure behind countries such as Namibia, Barbados, and Estonia.

And as the article TIGER Grants: Road Work Ahead? illustrates, we continue to spend plenty of our future generations' yet-unearned treasure on bike paths and lightly used light-rail projects. Add road, rail, and bridge infrastructure needs to the mix, and it is clear we need a better transportation vision and the fortitude to make it real.

Some modern industry leaders have exhibited the toughness and vision to accomplish much from little or nothing. The late Don Schneider of Schneider Trucking and Pat Quinn of U.S. Xpress are two who come to mind. And there are many others in transportation and logistics, unseen and unsung, facing the seemingly endless series of challenges and impediments required to get product to the demand point as seamlessly, quickly, and efficiently as possible.

Who are they? Look in the mirror. You, and others like you, take a never- ending stream of variables and integrate them like Tinkertoys, crafting them into a thing of beauty, answering the call, the need, and the demands of millions of customers around the globe one billion times each day. Tough, practical, unfazed by the specter of supply chain failure—that is the mark of today's supply chain professionals.

Refusing to be deterred from the goal no matter what impediments stand in your way? Yes, we do have some of that in our culture today. But we need more of it.