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Rapid Southeast supply chain helps Northeast rebuild


Longshoremen work the docks at the Port of New York and New Jersey days after Hurricane Sandy closed the waterfront and devastated a wide swath of the Northeast and Middle Atlantic. (Photo/Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)
Longshoremen work the docks at the Port of New York and New Jersey days after Hurricane Sandy closed the waterfront and devastated a wide swath of the Northeast and Middle Atlantic. (Photo/Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)
By Andy Owens
aowens@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 7, 2012

When Hurricane Sandy plowed through the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states last week, along with cutting off the flow of electricity, the storm cut off the flow of cargo and basic goods to millions of residents.

Shipping lines such as Evergreen halted all cargo to the Port of New York and New Jersey, and some ships had to reroute freight to Norfolk, Va., after the deadly storm. By this week, all of the ports were reported to have been reopened as construction crews, politicians and emergency management officials sorted through the debris.

Cox Industries, the largest producer of utility poles on the East Coast, was one of the companies called on to assist in the rebuilding of the infrastructure that was laid to waste by way of the Category 1 storm.

Early this week, Orangeburg-based Cox had sent more than 150 truckloads of utility poles and more than 15,000 crossarms. With the breadth of the devastation still unfolding, the company isn’t done.

Cox Industries expects to provide more than 250 truckloads of treated utility poles and cross arms, like this, to the Northeast by this weekend to help restore power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo/Cox Industries)
Cox Industries expects to provide more than 250 truckloads of treated utility poles and cross arms, like this, to the Northeast by this weekend to help restore power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo/Cox Industries)
Moving that much material doesn’t just happen the day after the storm, said Keith Harris, vice president of marketing for Cox Industries.

“We began over a week before the storm hit, contacting customers, verifying inventory in reload yards and at manufacturing facilities,” he said.

Harris said the process of moving those goods began with increasing the production and treatment of poles, but the company also had to figure out how to create a supply chain to move them to the disaster area, which presented several challenges.

“We used our own trucks, pulling them from other divisions, and then we reached out to several outside truck lines to help. Prices started increasing quickly,” Harris said.

Because of the quantity of toll roads in the Northeast and the number of truckers hauling loads from the company’s treatment plants in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, New Jersey and Alabama without a toll pass, Cox had to make arrangements.

“Tolls were a big issue in getting material to Long Island. We had to give cash to many truckers without EZ Pass,” Harris said. “The New York Port Authority started to allow trucks operating under the emergency declaration to get a free pass on the tolls over the weekend. New Jersey has yet to lift tolls and load regulations.”

With truck drivers making such a long haul from the Southeast to the Northeast, Cox also had to give truckers time to rest for a 24- to 30-hour turnaround.

Cox had a large volume of inventory in stock, and its treatment plants are operating 24 hours a day to replenish supplies. Harris said a storm like Hurricane Sandy does create a spike in business for the short term, but he said getting the supplies to the customers entails a great deal of extra costs, including ramping up to produce more inventory, paying overtime and hiring extra trucking assets. For example, Cox has about 20 company trucks but hired 25 more to haul poles for the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.

Harris said that those costs can pinch the increased demand but that doing what’s needed to respond in a crisis helps build a relationship for future business.

“The focus is to get our customers what they need as soon as possible. Putting them first creates the real long-term positive impact for Cox,” Harris said. “Our relationship with the utility, and the utility’s relationship with the consumer, is our main concern. The people come first and the rest will work out. Many of the utilities affected by the storm were already our customers, and they will be slower after the storm.”

Cox expects to ship more than 250 truckloads of poles by the weekend, with most of the wood sourced from mills in the Southeast.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.


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