Not quite in time for its 100th anniversary, the Panama Canal is undergoing a widening project that may generate a cascade of changes for American ports and distribution systems. Higher fuels costs are pushing shippers to use larger, slower vessels. Access to the canal would make the trip to East Coast or Gulf Coast ports only about two weeks slower than delivery to the West Coast, and slightly cheaper; what's more, it avoids the increasing problems of congestion in West Coast ports. Norfolk, Virginia, already can accommodate 50-foot drafts. Charleston and Savannah have plans in place for deeper-water ports. All these southeastern ports have some cost advantages over New York, whose sky-high real estate costs require costly drayage to send goods to Pennsylvania or New Jersey for storage before ultimate transport. The Gulf Coast, I'm afraid, is bringing up the rear, but there are possibilities here as well.
When I was a kid in school, they were always trying to teach us about distribution systems, but I never could understand how anyone could be interested. I suppose I thought everything magically appeared where people needed to use it. Now the process fascinates me: all that intricate balancing of supply and demand, speed and cost, so vulnerable to disruption and so ready to repair itself if allowed. I'd love a chance to pick the brain of the supply analyst who's quoted at length in the linked article; he seems to have a birds-eye view.
H/t Photon Courier.