In an age of increasing globalization, if you don’t build the appropriate goods movement infrastructure, the business will go elsewhere. That was the message from senior transportation experts who conducted a panel at the Bay Area Economic Summit last week. Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray who chairs the Western Golden Horseshoe Municipal Alliance (representing Hamilton, Niagara, Peel, Halton and Waterloo) said his organization was started out of frustration at the disjointed transportation planning from Queens Park. “We had three different transportation studies going on with no coordination between them,” he said. He added that things have improved with the announcement that the province will launch a comprehensive study into both transit and goods movement.

Other panelists included Douglas Harrison, president of Versa Cold, one of North Americas largest refrigerated storage companies and a major trucking and Logistics company, Bruce Wood, the CEO of the Hamilton Port and Howard Eng CEO of Pearson Airport.

Howard Eng told the audience that Pearson is now serving some 40 Million passengers a year and at some point in the next 20 years will reach capacity, with little opportunity for expansion. He has embarked on a study that could have implications for Hamilton Airport—a study that will explore ways all of the regional airports can work together. “We have to use different airports different ways,” he said. Eng pointed out that Pearson handles a large amount of cargo in the bellies of the passenger planes that stop at Pearson, and the key to an efficient airport cargo operation is good road capacity. “Getting goods to an airport doesn’t help if we can’t get goods to the final destination,” he said. On the passenger side he pointed out, “people don’t come to airports, they come to airports to go somewhere else.”

Hamilton Port CEU, Bruce wood says 8 years ago the Port was largely dedicated to servicing the steel industry. Since then the port has seen significant growth in the agri-food sector. Bunge Corporation, an oil seeds processor is about to embark on significant investment and Parrish and Heinbecker and Richardson International—both grain merchants—have already made significant investments and are planning more. The diversification means that the Port has gone from 8 percent non-steel shipping to 40 percent. He called for enhanced road and rail connection to the port to allow it to continue its growth and diversification. “We are also constrained by land,” he noted, The airport has just 600 acres of land and each development squeezes our land supply.”

Hamilton Port is becoming a major source of investment by the agri-food sector. (pictured) These grain handling domes were installed by Parrish and Heimbecker.

Hamilton Port is becoming a major source of investment by the agri-food sector. (pictured) These grain handling domes were installed by Parrish and Heimbecker.

Douglas Harrison told the audience that the cost of congestion has now been pegged at $11 Billion a year, almost double the estimate arrived at by the Toronto Board of Trade a few years ago. “We have a global transportation system,” he said. “Companies will look at the transportation system of a region as they decide where to establish factories.” The number one topic with businesses leaders he said is how to move goods on an aging infrastructure. “We used to use “just-in-time” delivery in the automotive sector, now it applies to all products.” He said it is somewhat naïve to talk about a major shift of goods movement from road to rail, pointing out that people who go shopping on the internet want their shipment the next day. The same applies to short-sea shipping, he said,  where customers are increasingly used to receiving their goods the day after the order has been placed.

Moderator Lauren Yaksich asked the panel to cast their eyes to the future. Doug Harrison said with a driver shortage of 44,000 he sees driverless trucks on the road within a decade. He reiterated his call for faster action on the road capacity crisis. This was echoed by Howard Eng who said we don’t just need better road connections, but that the transfer of goods has to be “hassle-free”. He repeated what was a common theme among panelists. “If we don’t make it easy for people and goods to get to markets, business will go somewhere else,” he concluded.

Chris Murray acknowledged the need for better communication of the goods movement message. “We have to evolve the conversation to include quality of life. We have to achieve a compromise.”

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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