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Tech Professor: UC Companies Adjusting To Bridge Collapse

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Tech Professor: UC Companies Adjusting To Bridge Collapse

Upper Cumberland companies that learned the importance of flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic are drawing on that knowledge after the collapse of the Baltimore Key Bridge.

Tennessee Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Professor Mick Williams says the initial indication is that the port will be closed for four to six weeks. He said many UC supply chain managers will be looking for secondary suppliers during the long Easter weekend. He said the arrival of materials like automobile parts and electronics could be delayed weeks.

“Supply chain people, I was thinking about this this morning, they’re like the long snappers on the football field,” Williams said. “As long as things are going well and they’re doing their job, nobody knows about them, but the moment something goes awry or not according to plan, we’re calling out their number.”

Williams said coal is a major export from Baltimore. He said companies will likely consider temporary air freight alternatives or onshoring, rather than ocean freight.

“Because of geopolitical issues that are going on with different parts of the war, whether it’s a war, whether it’s concerns about trade between us and China and other Asian countries, one of the latest things that we’re hearing is, more companies are onshoring,” Williams said.

This disaster could affect Japan, Brazil, and the Netherlands, let alone the Upper Cumberland, Williams said. He said many companies are looking to put suppliers in North America rather than rely on material exports from other parts of the world. He said for many companies that may have considered that new method but have yet to pull the trigger, this could be the final straw.

“I have a group that’s doing a project for a local manufacturer here in the Upper Cumberland, and we were just asking that question to them,” Williams said. “They happen to have European suppliers, but it looks like they’re in good shape, but I can’t say that for everybody. It’s a little bit of, you know, what’s on the boats and where are things in the pipeline.”

Williams said many boats that were headed for the southeast have been rerouted to ports in cities like Charleston and Savannah. He said while the port is closed to clear debris, several years of quick thinking and combing through freighting alternatives may have made manufacturers better prepared for the situation.


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