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Touring the Port of Long Beach

I recently learned a few things about the supply chain bottleneck in the Port of Long Beach. I'm certainly not an expert but supply chain bottlenecks are a Gordian knot with layers and cross currents.

Solving big problems requires reducing them into smaller problems. There is rarely a single cause or solution. Ryan Petersen, CEO at Flexport, a freight company, is doing the legwork and offering pragmatic thoughts. If you’re interested in the topic and not following him on social media, you’re missing out.

Petersen made a tour last week and noted that ground space for containers was a constraint. A Twitter campaign resulted in the Mayor of Long Beach temporarily lifting a regulatory stacking limit from 2 to 4 or 5 high. One problem, one idea, one solution. It won’t solve the whole problem, but could ease a pain point.

I did my own driving tour on Sunday. Container yards were not deserted. Cranes were in motion. Boats were being loaded and unloaded. Trucks were sparse, but not uncommon. Yes, it was a Sunday, so activity was likely atypical compared to a weekday. A selection of photos from my tour are posted in the gallery.

In addition to containers stacked on the ground, the quantity of rail that sat motionless and loaded with containers was stunning. (No, I couldn't tell whether containers were full or empty.) Both trucks and trains are involved in moving containers out of the docks and inland. If trucks and trains can’t move containers out fast enough, containers from arriving ships have nowhere to go.

Shipping is also not limited to containers. A coal freighter sat next to an oil tanker. Morton Salt has a facility. As much as I saw, I barely scratched the surface. The scale of port operations is immense – and this is just one port.

My brief tour was also a reminder that there is no substitute for direct observation. I’m not an expert and won’t become one, but I learned by seeing things for myself.

However, there was value on another level. None of us is going to be smart about everything. We rely on reporting and analysis from others. Determining who has credibility is a sorting process. Knowledge helps improve that process. Part of life is finding those who genuinely have knowledge and wisdom and learning from them. They can help enrich, inform and challenge our own understanding. Knowing how to learn is a skill – and it is broadly applicable regardless of subject matter.

SpaceX fans know this is exactly how Elon Musk got started with commercial rocketry. He did his own research and then sought others with knowledge. He learned and asked better questions over time. For what its worth, SpaceX also has dock space in the Long Beach ports for rocket recovery operations.


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