It’s All Connected: Freight and Waterway Systems Critical to Competitiveness

As the Materials & Logistics Manager for Nucor Steel Berkeley, a division of Nucor Corporation, Rob Roberson sees the strengths and weaknesses of nearly every aspect of the nation’s freight transportation system each day he is at work.  His job puts him on the front lines of logistics management, talking to Nucor’s transportation providers – trucking companies, railroads, barge operators and shipping lines – to coordinate freight transportation to and from the Berkeley mill outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

Rob’s job is also about to get a lot busier. Nucor, a Fortune 500 company and the largest steel producer in the United States, recently announced a major upgrade for his steel mill that will enable it to produce wider and lighter gauge sheet steel.  This investment in Huger, South Carolina will help Nucor tap into the growing market for cold-rolled steel in the southeastern United States, particularly for agricultural, pipe and tube, heavy truck and high strength automotive applications.

“The freight transportation system is vitally important to Nucor’s success and waterways play a particularly important role for a number of Nucor Divisions,” Roberson said.  “We have several steel mills located on rivers and some of these mills bring in more than 90 percent of their raw materials by river.  Nucor’s scrap steel business – The David J. Joseph Company – transports approximately 3,500 scrap barges per year.”

The southeast is one of America’s growth spots and continued investment in the region’s infrastructure will be critical to its long-term success. A majority of manufacturers do not believe that infrastructure is positioned to respond to the competitive demands of a growing economy over the next 10 to 15 years, according to a recent NAM survey on vital national infrastructure.

With larger ships anticipated to call on East Coast ports following the opening of the Panama Canal expansion project in 2015 and South Carolina’s growing economy, the need to pass H.R 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, is clear. In addition, Congress must return to authorizing Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works projects every two years so that critical infrastructure initiatives, like dredging Charleston harbor, can move forward.

Roberson recently testified before the House Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation on the importance of investing in our freight system.  “Manufacturing produces 12 percent of America’s GDP, but the U.S. is only investing about 1.7% of our GDP in infrastructure. Many of the countries we compete against are investing between 5 to 10 percent of GDP in their infrastructure,” said Roberson.  “In short, others are modernizing while we struggle to maintain a failing system that is decades old. However, with the proper investment and governance, we can give American businesses the tools they need to remain globally competitive.”

Rob also leads Nucor’s Corporate Logistics efforts across 23 steelmaking division and 24 product divisions. In fact, his expertise has been tapped for the Department of Transportation’s National Freight Advisory Committee.

Nucor fosters a corporate culture focused on the art of the possible and is honored to have one of its teammates serve  on a high-level policy committee that will make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on improvements needed to better move freight in the United States.

Nucor’s decentralized North American presence allows efficient service to its customers while keeping freight costs in check and reducing the environmental footprint associated with transportation. However, disruptions in the freight network are a challenge that many manufacturers face in the United States and Nucor feels strongly that policymakers have an obligation to invest in infrastructure to keep manufacturing competitive.

It’s All Connected is a blog series by manufacturers focused on the need for authorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

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