January 2011 | Commentary | In Perspective

Freight Equals Politics

Tags: Economic Development, Global Economy

As the population shifts and Republicans gain control of Congress, it is time to strengthen the connection between our economic engine and political tide.

It is no surprise to logistics professionals that the U.S. population has continued to shift, and the West and South have gained population faster than other parts of the country. Demand and shipment volumes should reflect that growth, providing a leading indicator on the results of the just-completed U.S. Census.

The shift might appear subtle because core population centers don’t just pack up and move. But the implications of the shift may not be as subtle. Political analysts are already tallying the changes in Congressional representation and offering opinions on what will be in store when the 113th Congress convenes.

While only Michigan and Puerto Rico lost population, slower growth will cost 10 states seats in the 113th Congress. For states including Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Ohio, the erosion of Congressional influence has been a trend. For states such as Texas, which exhibits continued significant growth, the story is the opposite; it has gained seats in Congress as fast as northern states have shed them.

Based on the results of the 2010 mid-term elections, analysts expect that redistricting as a result of the apportionment shift could further affect some House seats held by Democrats. Some states began feeling the effects of that election’s power shift right away.

Even before being sworn in, at least three newly elected Republican governors— in Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio— said they would scrutinize passenger rail projects. Ohio’s John Kasich asked President Obama to reallocate the state’s $400 million to other transportation infrastructure needs (including freight rail) or return it to the Treasury to reduce the federal budget deficit. It appears the funds will be reallocated to other passenger rail projects.

While logistics professionals reapportion resources in line with demand shifts represented by growth or decline in key markets, it is increasingly important to keep an eye on what is happening with the political equivalent of network optimization.

Is Kasich’s view on the need to improve Ohio’s transportation infrastructure before considering high-speed passenger rail an asset for logistics? When the state completes redistricting, it could cost two Democrats their seats in the 113th Congress. If the state’s governor is inclined to pursue infrastructure improvements and support funding freight rail projects, does that set a similar agenda for Republican members of the House of Representatives?

With border states such as Texas gaining significant representation in Congress, where does that leave issues like the ban on Mexican trucks moving beyond the immediate border zone? On the other hand, will NAFTA-friendly projects face a brighter prospect with more Texas votes in Congress and fewer votes from traditional manufacturing states?

Deep in the roots of the political discussion that looks ahead to the 2012 Presidential election lie the green shoots of some significant logistics issues. In the end, the top 10 population states— California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, and North Carolina— still carry more than 90 percent of the Electoral College votes needed to elect a president. These states also represent some of the most important freight origins, destinations, and infrastructure.

If freight equals commerce, and commerce drives economic growth, and economic growth is needed to earn the votes to gain political power, then perhaps freight equals politics. The recent mid-term election and U.S. Census results could open an opportunity for transportation and logistics issues to be heard and addressed.