As many of our informants noted in this issue’s “State of the Industry” article, it’s especially hard to make any forecasts this year. Now that the initial relief at the news of multiple vaccine development has worn off, it’s clear that the economic effects of the pandemic are far from over. While some commodity groups have done better than others, all have felt the effects of the unprecedented coronavirus and lockdowns. Oil is especially uncertain.
The article draws attention to the contrast between the news of continued pandemic spread, lockdowns, and the resulting economic repercussions—which are still ongoing—and the many reasons why the waterways industry can look forward to the new year with optimism.
China continues to import U.S. corn and soybeans. Farm incomes are up, despite everything. A new administration is promising to act on infrastructure. Some market segments are showing signs of recovery.
More important, perhaps, are the legislative achievements: another WRDA passed; efficient funding for many waterway lock and dam and infrastructure projects; the first new lock and dam start for years; clarification on Jones Act applicability to offshore wind installations; and funding for numerous dredging projects, enough to send a positive investment signal.
These successes were a textbook lesson on focusing on what you can control in a crisis year. Our industry and its leaders couldn’t control the progress of the virus, the responses of the medical community or the decisions of the general populace to observe restrictions and wear masks, or not. They could and did ensure that their own employees worked to the highest safety standards and protocols. The American Waterways Operators provided forums for waterways leaders to share information on how to fight the virus and ensure safety, and continues to produce a series of outstanding safety webinars. The industry continues to deliver cargoes safely and to work on getting vessels certificated under Subchapter M.
Much less could our industry representatives control the political climate in Congress, or on social media. Instead, they quietly worked their existing partnerships in Congress and continued to forge bonds around the bipartisan issue of waterways development. Waterways Council Inc., along with AWO and other industry advocates—not forgetting our farm partners—worked with members of Congress from both parties to get important funding measures included in WRDA and attached to the coronavirus bill.
When the flickering attention span of social media has moved on and calmer eyes look back over this period, we hope the achievements of our industry leaders, and of members of Congress working together, will be recognized. This year’s package of legislative successes would have been a victory in any year. That they were achieved during a crisis year is remarkable.