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Secretary LaHood on the Supply Chain Crisis

Former Trans­portation Sec. Ray LaHood says supply chain issue not ending anytime soon

By Mitch Perry Tampa Nov. 05, 2021 

TAMPA, Fla. — Ray LaHood, the former Transportation Secretary during President Barack Obama’s first term in office, said Friday in Tampa that the current global supply chain disruption won’t get under control in the U.S. until sometime in early to mid-2022.

“Probably this will not be solved until the first quarter of next year,” LaHood said while speaking on a panel hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures at the Tampa Convention Center on Friday. He said that was the word he received earlier in the day from John Porcari, who was named in August as Port Envoy on the White House’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force. LaHood added that Porcari does believe that big-box stores will have the kind of goods that they need for the Christmas holiday season.

That prediction was a bit too sunny for Chris Jones, the President of Florida Economics Advisors. Sitting on the same panel, he said the capacity problems that U.S. ports are contending with right now likely won’t be resolved until the second half of next year.

“When you’ve only got so much capital in place to get goods moved, and enough truckers, enough individuals to get the product from the ports…to the final retailers or the facilities where they need to finish the manufacturing the product, you can’t do that overnight,” Jones said.

There is a massive shortage of qualified commercial drivers to add to the problem. The American Trucking Association estimates that the industry is 80,000 drivers short of what’s currently needed, according to the Wall Street Journal. One proposed solution is a provision in the infrastructure bill in congress (not yet voted on as of this writing) that would lower the requirement age for commercial truck drivers from 21 to 18.

But LaHood says that’s a nonstarter.

“DOT will never let that happen,” he said, using the acronym for the Dept. of Transportation, which he headed from 2009 to 2013. “Just strictly on the safety aspect of having an 18-year-old driving a 90,000-pound truck is not what we want in America.”

LaHood said that American truck drivers need to be paid well and have good working conditions. “Once that happens, the ability for trucking companies to recruit truckers will improve,” he said.

Supply chain bottlenecks have negatively affected a variety of sectors in the U.S., including cars and electronics. But it’s also affecting other a number of other industries, such as bookstores.

Candice Anderson, the co-owner of Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg, says there could be problem when it comes to the distribution of unexpected best-sellers from publishers. “If it’s more popular than they expected, that second printing is going to be slow to arrive. Probably not this year,” she says.

There could also be a problem with books that require a lot of color as many of them are published in Asia, such as cookbooks, children’s books and large coffee-table type books.

“If they run out, they’re going to be harder to restock,” says Anderson.

She adds that Tombolo Books has been preparing for potential problems due to the supply chain issue by ordering certain titles earlier and in greater volume, “to get ready for our local customers to have what they need.”