I was running a little late, but arrived at the forum just in time to hear Professor Christopher Gopal of the Drucker School of Management talk about “supply chain hubs” and “goods movement trends.” He was the featured speaker at a Logistics Town Hall forum held at San Bernardino Valley College and hosted by Assembly Member Cheryl Brown. Love it or hate it, our region is considered the central hub of the supply chain…the goods movement gateway. And I mostly hate it.
Yes, we are uniquely situated geographically at the “crossroads where all ways meet.” With a burgeoning international trade partner like China and an increasingly on-demand consumer culture that expects online purchases to be delivered before we take our fingers off the “send” button, our unique geographical location will continue to attract distribution center developers and companies in need of fulfillment centers. “E-commerce is driving much of the economic activity,” Professor Gopal said. And all those goods need to be housed, transported, and delivered.
During the forum, a student group led a protest inside the room, briefly interrupting a lecture by economist John Husing on the growing volume of goods flowing through the Inland area. Last year, he commented, we experienced the third highest year of containers through our Southern California ports, and 80 percent of those goods traveled by rail or truck through our region. The youthful protesters wore white masks and held signs protesting the air pollution caused by those trucks and trains, an environmental impact that – along with increased truck traffic – continues to concern many of us, including Assembly Member Brown. I attended her Transportation Roundtable last year where she addressed vital and pragmatic environmental concerns, including the impact of the implementation of AB 32 on small businesses in our region.
One of the reasons I attended the event is because I have spent quite a bit of time – and written many columns – on the topic. While I hate the “warehousing” of our region, I try to stay informed on economic trends and opportunities for change and growth. “We need a better regional infrastructure and a more educated and skilled workforce,” Professor Gopal listed as two solutions to our uber-reliance on the logistics industry. These two things, he said, can attract higher paying industries but will require collaboration at the regional, state, and federal levels.
Yes, our local elected officials will continue to be faced with some tough decisions. As Professor Gopal explained, in the new economy “governments are competing not just companies”. It’s not often we have elected representatives from other regions visit the Inland Empire to gain a better understanding of the challenges we face. That is one of the reasons I was encouraged to see our own Rep. Norma Torres and Assembly Member Jose Medina joined by other “Inland” legislators from the Central Valley and Northern California, who like us, have been negatively impacted by systemic disparities in funding formulas and the appropriation of resources that disproportionately benefit the established and affluent coastal areas at the expense of the growing Inland areas of the state.
“What does this mean for the local community?” Professor Gopal asked. “How can we produce a more educated and skilled workforce?” “How do we improve our infrastructure?” “How do we continue to build alliances across county borders and develop coalitions throughout the state?” “How do we build a dense network of diverse civic and industry leaders right here in the Inland Empire?” Love it or hate it, these are challenges that we must collaboratively and collectively address if we are to move beyond the movement of goods.