Truckers are hauling containers away from the Port of Houston in huge numbers amid a global supply chain crunch.
Amanda Drane, a business reporter for the Houston Chronicle, spoke to Texas Standard about the scramble to deliver goods to retailers as the holiday shopping season approaches. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: You spent a recent morning at the Port of Houston, taking in the scene there. Can you describe what you saw? What was the atmosphere like?
Amanda Drane: The volume of containers at the port right now was really breathtaking to see. It’s hard when you’re sitting in at ground level to really get a full sense of scale. But when they took us up 30 stories into the crane, your eyes couldn’t even take in how many containers there were. There were just so many.
Wow. Can you talk about some of the factors behind why that is? It’s a parking lot outside of the port there in the water.
Cargo volume is definitely up at the port over last year and consumer demand is up. Some of what we’re seeing in Houston is it’s an import and export terminal. So some of the containers are imports and some of them are exports. And according to Port of Houston, it’s pretty equal.
A lot has been made of the logjam at the Port of Long Beach ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and some people wanting to do an end run to get to Houston so they can take advantage of the interstate system leading up to Chicago. Is some of that happening?
I share that question. The Port of Houston is unclear on how much of that is happening. That remains to be seen right now. Vendors are trying to do everything they can to meet retailers’ demand, and that’s quite a scramble.
I’ve heard a lot about not enough truck drivers to take stuff away from the ports. Does that seem to be a problem in Houston?
That is something that I’m hearing everywhere. So some background for you. The port is a 63% capacity, which sounds like there’s a lot more capacity, but they don’t really like to be operating at more than that because it makes it harder to shuffle the containers around. So they’re focusing on getting trucks in and out of there quickly. So it’s hard to know if there were more trucks, how many more they could get into the port and out of the port in a timely fashion.
You spoke with some retailers in Houston for this story – folks at the end of this supply chain. What did they have to say about what they’re expecting with the holidays coming?
A lot of them are just wondering what the heck is going on and aren’t getting very many answers. Augie Bering at Berings Hardware ordered lighted holiday trees, almost a year ago in January, and they still haven’t arrived. A lot of retailers have just been waiting and waiting and waiting for stuff they ordered far earlier than they normally would, and it’s they’re stuck at a port in California or it’s waiting at a local port or it’s stuck in a warehouse somewhere because a company doesn’t have the staffing that it needs to meet, that even the domestic shipping needs.
Are there particular products that people should expect to be scarcer or more expensive?
It seems like that’s fluid right now. Adobe Analytics tracks online out of stock messages, and last week they said baby products were one of the top categories, and this week baby products are not one of the top. It’s more electronics and clothes and Home Goods has been pretty continuously low in stock throughout the pandemic. So that’s one of the things to watch out for.