How the Port of Baltimore’s closure may impact shipping and supply chains

BALTIMORE — Before a car ends up at your local dealership, it most likely passed through the Port of Baltimore first.

“The port is like our original economic driver,” said Mark Anthony Thomas, President & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

It’s the top domestic port for vehicles and a major hub for materials like wood, steel and aluminum along with home appliances, furniture and farm equipment.

Right now, the Port of Baltimore remains at a standstill after the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse last week. Thomas said it’s critical for the port to reopen as quickly as it can.

“When you automatically have like an instance shut off, not only does it disrupt the entire supply chain network for the east coast, but then it creates a ripple effect and just our ability to receive goods,” said Thomas.

Maryland officials say the power of the Port of Baltimore is in the numbers. Last year, it handled more than 52 million tons of foreign cargo which adds up to more than $80 billion.

“There’s obviously huge relevance, economic importance of Baltimore to this national freight network, and then most importantly, to the regional network too,” said Joe Kane, Brookings Institute Fellow.

Supply chain experts say the port’s proximity to the Midwest is also valuable.

“Baltimore is the furthest inland port of all the East Coast ports,” said Houston Mason, Adjunct professor at Georgetown University. “Once the ships get to Baltimore, they’re much closer to many population areas in the Midwest and beyond via rail or truck.”

In addition to the port, experts say there are also several major companies like Under Armour, Home Depot and Amazon have distribution centers in the area too.

“Will they have to rely on maybe some other ports? You know, will this result in maybe additional travel times? Potentially,” said Kane. “But I think the hope is, of course, like by accelerating, federal funding around this…I think the hope is to accelerate these improvements.”

Now, Baltimore officials say it’s all hands on deck from state and federal levels to get ships moving again.

“They understand the broad economic impact of what the [port] staying close for too long means. But it is going to require a safe strategy to make sure things are open and rebuilt correctly,” said Thomas.

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