Freight Review 2023: A year that looked like 2019 all over again

THE LINK Freight Year in Review
Exports being loaded at the Port of Savannah - Photo Credit: Georgia Ports Authority

January 18, 2024–The year 2023 will go down as a tumultuous period, but also one bringing new opportunities for supply chain professionals to readjust and ready themselves for the coming year.

Cargomatic Chief Spokesperson and SVP of Industry Relations Weston LaBar closely monitored events as they developed month by month in 2023 and, along the way, interviewed key leaders in the country’s supply chain industry to get their insights.

“Putting a bow on this year’s freight year in review, it looked much different than the previous years. In fact, many will tell you that 2023 should really be compared to 2019 as it was the last real baseline year, in which case, we did okay,” said LaBar.


Chris Sultemeier, former Executive Vice President of Supply Chain for Walmart, summed up the big change that hit the industry as 2023 began, explaining that the efforts of retailers to meet consumer demand in 2022 were suddenly brought to nothing.

“Every retailer chased those goods, and suddenly, when you had us coming out of the pandemic and all of that stuff really starting to flow well, then suddenly demand cut off and demand shifted more to the service industries,” Chris said. “Now, suddenly all of that stuff is sitting there, and it’s literally taking retailers 18 months or so to go through that.”

Beth Rooney, Port Director at The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, talked about her efforts to help keep the supply chain on track and resilient as cargo volumes rose and fell during the year.

“How does the Port of New York & New Jersey withstand a disruption? It could be a labor issue, it could be a trucking issue, it could be a hurricane, it could be a pandemic, right? It’s about creating resiliency within the ecosystem that we control,” she said.


Looking beyond the supply chain itself, John Wolfe, CEO of the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma, spoke about the fluid state of the national economy based upon his experience as a “member of the board” of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Even as the nation’s imports declined, ports along the West Coast began to feel a much greater loss of throughput as the nation’s shippers, worried about possible disruptions due to labor talks, began diverting cargo to the East and Gulf coasts, with the Port of Los Angeles seeing imports drop by more than 30% in the month of February alone.

Max Vekich, a former dockworker and newly installed commissioner with the Federal Maritime Commission, weighed in on that redirection of cargo, calling it “a mistake” and predicting that “it’ll all come back.”


Others, such as Stephen Edwards, CEO and Executive Director of the Port of Virginia, were not so sure about that return of cargo to the West Coast, noting that the redirection of cargo to the East and Gulf coasts is part of a longer trend.

“I think the material shift is something that’s been going on for more than a decade, and it’s going to continue for a number of reasons, which are to do with port efficiency, to do with gateways, but also to do with geopolitical issues as well as just where trade is moving to,” Edwards said.

Where, exactly, are things going? Here’s how LaBar sums it up: “As we head out of 2023 and into 2024, the supply chain has exhausted much of that inventory, worked on resiliency and invested in having a much better supply chain from an end-to-end perspective, and as we turn the page into next year, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good year.”

Join in on the experience, see what happened, and—most of all—get some insights on what’s needed to make things go better in 2024.

Experience the Freight Review here: