NITL: A League All Their Own

The discussions at last month’s TransComp in Anaheim were wide ranging, covering port lockouts, homeland security, and globalization. But there was also a hint of what we might expect in 2003, and lest we grow too optimistic, economic recovery is not near at hand.

A conversation I had with David Stubblefield, outgoing president of ABF, was particularly troubling. With nearly 80,000 customers in all types of businesses large and small, ABF’s customer base offers a good cross-section of how the U.S. economy is doing—a leading economic indicator, if you will.

Stubblefield’s sobering assessment of the past year, notwithstanding added business as a result of CF’s liquidation, is that the economy is still soft and will remain so into next year. Customers are not shipping, not because they are losing sales to competitors but because their customers are not buying. This is not a good sign.

It’s not just LTL either. The presidents of two 3PLs—one medium and one large—report the same. And, one CEO told me that in his 30 years of logistics experience he never saw the food sector soft. Now he does.

Despite these ominous forecasts, actions are being taken to make the best of the situation. For example, this year’s TransComp 2002 and International Intermodal Expo marked the first time the two events co-located, along with TIA’s annual fall meeting. Combining the conferences as a result of the poor economy, fear of traveling, and budget cuts bolstered support for all three shows and offered an inclusive forum for drawing on the best ideas for coping from the broadest range of industry experience. Good for them.

At center stage this year was the realization of the National Industrial Transportation League’s (NITL) Vision 2020, a proposal planted by League executives at last year’s conference and ratified by its members earlier this year. The reorganization of the membership structure allows carriers and intermediaries—previously relegated to associate member status—to become full members in the League, fostering even greater collaboration among supply chain practitioners.

“The lines between a shipper and a carrier have become blurred, so we wanted to create an open forum for everybody in transportation to get together and discuss issues of mutual interest,” says Kathy Luhn, vice president, public affairs, NITL. “The only way to do that was as equal voting members.”

But changing dynamics in the transportation industry in recent years, including deregulation, globalization, and the growth of the 3PL market, were all compelling signs that NITL needed to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Vision 2020 accomplishes that.

NITL’s Vision 2020 reflects a new paradigm, where shippers and transportation providers, transportation managers, and purchasing officers are no longer secluded in vertical silos, but rather interlinked in a collaborative web-driven environment.

Sound familiar? It should. We’ve been preaching the efficacy of cross-function collaboration since our own inception.

Thanks to NITL, transport buyers, shippers, consignees, and intermediaries are no longer in a league all their own. Working together will make facing next year easier.