If you’ve tracked an overseas package or tried to buy any number of consumer electronics over the last few months, you know all about the inflexible nature of the global supply chain.
Supply chain experts have long known about this inflexibility. As Professor Nikolay Osadchiy, Associate Professor of Information Systems & Operations Management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, told Hypepotamus, “our continuous desire to optimize supply chains and run them as lean as possible contributed to the [current] crisis. Looking backward, you can see that optimization was done at the expense of redundancy and resiliency.”
In an effort to alleviate the East Coast’s backlog of shipped products, the Georgia Ports Authority recently opened up 18 new rail tracks, which will increase capacity coming out of the port by 30%.
The Mason Mega Rail Terminal expansion is a project four years in the making, but the timing is perfect as the port tries to navigate a backlog of container ships.
But another project — a system of eight “Popup Yards” in Georgia and North Carolina — is being touted as a unique “startup” fix for the region. Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch called the popup yards a “big win” since containers will be offloaded to sites in key inland locations, helping alleviate the backlog at the port while bringing products closer to truck drivers.
While the Port is hopeful that these two projects will help with the 2021 holiday rush, Osadchiy sees them having more long-term benefits for the region by adding more jobs down the road and ultimately decreasing the supply chain’s carbon footprint.
Local logistics startups have also used 2021 as a chance to reshape how they work with customers across the country. In turn, these startups have further cemented Atlanta’s role as a leader in supply chain innovation.
Just look at Saltbox, an Atlanta-based co-warehousing space that helps small business owners run and scale e-commerce stores.
“Logistics shouldn’t be designed just for boxes,” Saltbox cofounder Maxwell Bonnie told Hypepotamus. A human-centric look at logistics helped Saltbox adjust to the needs of members as small businesses navigated the coinciding crises of supply chain and labor shortages.
Over the last few months, the Saltbox team has expanded several of its offerings to help members adapt to 2021’s challenges, including the launch of its Elastic Workforce. Business owners can bring in operation specialists on an as-needed basis to help with assembly, inventory management, and other shipping needs to meet the demand of a specific day.
This new model, Bonnie said, is not only helping business owners adapt to changing global logistics challenges, but is also supporting the critical supply chain jobs that keep products moving across the country on a daily basis.
Saltbox has also expanded outside of Atlanta to Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Denver — a move that also helps current members work through nationwide shipping dilemmas.
“I think when you make things human-centric, you think about all of the people involved and you design with empathy and with flexibility. And we’re feeling that change right now. Things become more local, they come in smaller increments and in shorter distances.”
Other local startups in the supply chain and logistics space have expanded their physical presence across the nation, including Stord, which now has warehouses in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Reno, and New Haven.
Moving into 2022, the next supply chain “challenge” remains to be seen. But as Bonnie sees it, “[business owners] who are doing the best are comfortable with experimentation.” And local startups seem ready to help those businesses experiment and navigate the uncertainty.