JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Even though it might take longer to get your furniture or package you ordered last week delivered to your house, Missouri is actually moving the same amount of freight that it did before the pandemic.
So, why is it still taking so long? Since January, a seven-person task force has researched the problems within the supply chain. It might surprise you that more people are ordering goods online. Yet, there actually aren’t enough Missourians to fill the job openings in the state.
Missouri has an unemployment rate that’s lower than the national average, 3.4%. Director of the Department of Workforce Development, Mardy Leathers, said Monday that there are less than 300,000 job openings in the state. Still, supply chain issues are front and center.
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“For everyone who is currently out of work or in unemployment status, there’s only about .6 individuals available for the amount of job postings we have,” Leathers said. “One of the supply chain challenges we have is just finding workers who are willing and able to do the work.”
Leathers and Patrick McKenna, the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), Pco-chaired the Missouri Supply Chain Task Force. The group held seven meetings throughout the state since January, and at the end of this month, will deliver its report to the governor.
“What the pandemic did is expose a lot of fractures in our economy from not only a national, but an international perspective,” McKenna said. “We’re moving as much freight as we were prior to the pandemic. It’s just that a lot of the buying behaviors of consumers changed during the pandemic.”
The task force spent each meeting talking with businesses and organizations that manufacture, sell or move goods in Missouri. In an exclusive poll done in conjunction with Emerson College and the Hill, Missourians were asked: “In the past month have supply chain issues affected you personally through items being unavailable, or the delivery of items being delayed?”
Here are the results: 80.3% answered yes, and 19.7% said no.
“It’s increased a lot of the shipping container needs and the trucking needs around the country and the world and it did it very quickly so that racking of the system really exposed some of the flaws,” McKenna said.
In the nearly 80-page report, the task force made 33 recommendations, one of which saying Missouri should manufacture shipping containers to help with demand. The recommendation said that the price of containers has increased from $1,600 in 2019 to $2,500 in 2021, but McKenna said a major priority needs to be the infrastructure to handle the production.
“What we are doing right now will help the supply chain, but what we’re really doing is playing catch up,” McKenna said. “We’re fixing existing roads and bridges primarily.”
During one of the meetings, Hillyard, a St. Joseph-based manufacturer of cleaning products told members it has increased wages for drivers by 13.5% since the start of the pandemic and has added bonuses for safety, retention, and recruitment.
The report said in 2018, more than 985 million tons of freight moved across Missouri by rail, highways, air, waterways, and ports, bringing in $26 billion in income. By 2045, it’s estimated that the state’s transportation system will carry more than 1.1 billion tons of freight valued at $1.8 trillion.
“Freight and logistics employment in Missouri is about 5% of our labor force. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s a lot,” Leather said. “When we look at this, human capital is a big part of the equation.”
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The task force also looked at the accommodations for truck drivers, researching the number of parking spots available for drivers who need to stop due to requirements that limit drivers to a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel in a 24-hour period.
“We need to make sure drivers that are coming through the state have a safe place to park to reset their hours,” Leathers said. “We also need to make sure that drivers have the appropriate staging areas. We don’t think about places for staging, we need space for trucks to wait for their turn to unload or to get loaded.”
The recommendation is to increase truck parking availability because nighttime peak hours exceed capacity by 2,300 spaces.
The report also focused on how transporting freight by truck impacts Missouri highways. Members found that Interstate 44, which connects St. Louis to Springfield, is Missouri’s top freight highway corridor, carrying more than 1.3 billion tons of freight. Other major interstates in Missouri that carry between 100 and 150 million tons include Interstate 29 and 70.
Missourians can view the report and comment on it by going to MoDOT’s website. The comment period is open until Friday. Task force members will then review the comments to include them in the final report which will be submitted to Gov. Mike Parson by the end of June.
To view the report, visit: https://www.modot.org/supplychaintaskforce