NORTH BEND, Wash. – Truck driver Larry Minton has driven through Washington state too many times to be counted.
“The pilots are tired of running, running, running,” Minton said.
It may look like a hamster wheel; some weeks he works seven days in a row.
“We hire drivers around the clock,” Minton said.
Minton’s commitment to his work is crucial to ensuring that we have the goods we need.
But he is a small link in a complicated supply chain. Minton says that while his delivery is on time, sometimes the challenge is beyond him.
“Lack of unloaders, lack of people working in the facilities to get the product to the stores,” Minton said.
Labor shortage is a problem, but often the bottleneck starts overseas for a variety of reasons, including COVID-related setbacks.
“When the steamboat line sneezes, the whole economy catches a cold, it all has a ripple effect, it takes a while to catch up,” said Rich Haas of Rainier Moving.
“We currently have over 70 vessels waiting outside Los Angeles to enter,” said Steve Ege of Vanguard Logistics.
Haas and Ege work for companies that help move shipping containers to and from major hubs like the Port of Seattle.
“I checked a vessel yesterday that has been at anchor off Whidbey Island for 18 days,” Ege said.
There are too many products to move and little space to put them in the ports. Just one aspect leading to serious delays and disruptions up and down the supply chain.
“We notice these things go state to state,” said truck driver Tenisha Smiley.
Smiley says that every state she goes to, something is out of stock. His message to consumers is to be prepared to pay even more for certain products if the blockage persists.
Experts expect even greater delays as the holiday season approaches.
“Realize that timing is everything,” Ege said.
In the short term, declining demand could alleviate the supply chain problem, but Ege realistically says that won’t happen. He says the supply chain could remain slower than usual until the end of 2022.
Meanwhile, consumer spending changed during the pandemic. The demand for material goods has increased, instead of people paying for experiences like travel, due to restrictions.
This change adds to the imbalance between supply and demand.
“If you’re going shopping for Thanksgiving, Christmas, the holidays right now, better buy early,” Minton said.
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