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SMC³’s Jump Start 2023 Kicks Off with Record-Setting Attendance, Top-Tier Industry Intelligence and Valuable Networking Opportunities

Sessions revealed C-suite perspective, carrier outlook, China’s impact and economic news

Jump Start 2023, the industry’s premier three-day supply chain event, wasted no time on Day 1 diving into the weighty issues that are facing the transportation industry in this new year. Jump Start 2023 lived up to its reputation as an unrivaled intelligence gathering event with “In the Fast Lane” presentations from Transflo and Walmart, an outlook for carriers in this pivotal year, China’s global impact on the supply chain, and global and US economic forecasts.

The record-setting crowd of 600 attendees marked this annual event produced by SMC3 to provide qualitative, valuableindustry education and networking opportunities. Attendees represent a wide range of roles in the supply chain industry—carriers, shippers, logistics service providers and technology companies.

“I truly appreciate each of you making this a part of your business at the start of this year,” said SMC3 CEO Andrew Slusher, as he opened the event. “We have a tremendous lineup of speakers today and throughout the event.”

2023 Starts Soft, But Momentum Picks up

Transflo CEO Renee Krug led the first session in the Jump Start Leadership Series, looking back at where the industry was in the early days of the pandemic—a surge in freight and huge consumer demand—that made securing trucks the most pressing issue. Additional concerns emerged as fuel prices steadily climbed and demand experienced peaks and valley over the following two years. “Fuel back in November of 2020 was $2.43 a gallon. If you look at it two years later, it’s over $5 a gallon,” said Krug.

Krug also noted the typical cycling demand and the industry’s response to the peak during the early days of the pandemic. “The traditional cycle in the truckload segment is it goes through the cycle where prices start peaking, everybody runs out and buys tractors. Then we have an oversupplied demand that softens and drives down market pricing.”

We’re now seeing the lowest lows in 2023, Krug noted, with the downward trend starting in the last half of 2022 and really spiraling in Q4. The peak holiday season, usually a boon for the transportation industry, was muted last year due to so many disruptive factors like the ongoing pandemic, high inflation, the Russia Ukraine conflict, major changes in China and the global energy crisis.

“Everyone’s predicting that Q1 of 2023 will be soft, true for the whole first half of the year,” said Krug. “Some of the inventories will start to come down in the second half of the year. Then the peak season will come back in and we’ll start to have a recovery toward the second half of the year. Really, the recovery is in 2024.”

Attracting Diverse Talent, Embracing End-to-End Connectivity

The second Jump Start Leadership Series was led by Jennifer McKeehan, Senior Vice President, End-to-End Delivery at Walmart, and session moderator Michelle Livingstone, President of MD Livingstone Consulting. They shared their passion for attracting more diverse talent to the transportation world.

“Attracting women is something we have been focused on a lot and as you look out over this audience, the numbers are improving. But there’s still an opportunity to improve further,” said Livingstone.

One of the keys to advancing women in the supply chain industry is identifying smart problem solvers and great relationship builders, rather than just focusing on current expertise. “There are great folks out there. Sometimes you just have to try a little harder to find them—but it’s worth it,” said McKeehan. She noted that women currently make up 36% of Walmart’s officers—up 5% in the last two years.

Beyond diversity, McKeehen discussed how Walmart embraces end-to-end connectivity to unlock an incredible amount of capacity for the company. Walmart looks at delivery as a platform that includes first mile, ocean and imports, middle mile, multi-modal domestic transportation and final mile.

“We’re very used to thinking about first and middle together and final mile is a sort of hipster new concept,” said McKeehan. “But putting those together has been a tremendous value.”

The Outlook for Carriers

The first day of Jump Start 2023 also included a panel discussion on what’s expected to be a pivotal year for carriers. The panelists were Jason Bergman, Chief Operating Officer at Yellow Corp.; Bob Costello, Chief Economist & Senior Vice President of International Trade Policy and Cross-Border Operations, American Trucking Association (ATA); Brent Hutto, Chief Relationship Officer, Truckstop; and Todd Polen, Vice President—Pricing Services, Old Dominion Freight Line.

The panelists weighed in on whether the US is heading into a recession and if so, to what degree? Hutto said working at Truckstop, which is in the spot market for truckload freight, gives him access to a lot of great data. “I think it would be ignorant of anyone to think that we’re not going to have some type of recessionary activity with our economy—mostly because it’s probably needed.”

Though the timing of recessionary activity isn’t an exact science. “Will it happen the first quarter of 2023? No, now it’s probably the second quarter or maybe the beginning of the second half of the year,” said Hutto. We ran so high during the pandemic for so long. To me, it’s more of a corrective action inside of freight than anything else.”

People traveling again and taking vacations are eating into spending on goods, said Costello of the ATA. There’s already a recession in housing and manufacturing will likely contract this year. “You add all of that up and you have a freight recession,” said Costello. Polen of Old Dominion agreed. “We’re projecting pain through the end of June as well. But it’s short term,” said Polen.

The panelists also provided their thoughts on the current job market, where wage acceleration for blue color jobs has outperformed white collar—something that hasn’t happened in a long time, according to Costello.  He said with the unemployment rate at a 50-year low, wage pressure will continue to be an issue for the industry until unemployment climbs to 4.5% or 5%.

Bergman of Yellow Corp. noted that labor exceeds inflation right now. With inflation at 6.5% to 7%, wage increases through the pandemic are up 11% to 16%.

“I don’t see that stopping,” said Bergman. “Regardless of where inflation is going and regardless if we go into a recession or not, there are areas of increased costs for our industry that are not going in reverse.”

Polen concurred. “We’re not seeing any relief from that pressure. The only thing we’re getting more of is government regulation, higher costs, and higher fuel costs now as well.”

China’s Global Impact

Another Jump Start 2023 panel explored China’s global impact on the supply chain. Panelists Jon Monroe, Principal at Jon Monroe Consulting and John Kent, Director Supply Chain China Initiatives, University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business, provided their perspectives.

In his experience representing supply chain clients in China, Monroe said China is getting to the end of COVID-19 this year, but the country furloughed many of their factory workers early because demand from the US and Europe sharply declined.

“It’s a matter of US and European companies generating orders,” said Monroe. “When you see those orders drop, you’re going to have a bit of an issue.”

Kent noted that China is well positioned for raw materials and commodities. He also drew a distinction between cooperation and competition with China, emphasizing cooperation since “we’re going to need the factories we’re doing business within other countries for upstream components of the commodities and connections.”

Asked about the potential for conflict between China and other Asian players such as Taiwan or Japan, Monroe and Kent provided varying perspectives. “I don’t think China is going to invade Taiwan anytime soon. There’s too much downside,” said Kent.

“I worry about it a lot,” said Monroe. “President Xi Jinping cares about this legacy. That’s all he cares about. That’s why I think it’s a flash point.”

Global Economic Update

Dr. Jeff Rosensweig, International Business and Finance Professor at Emory University, provided the global economic update at Jump Start 2023. He began by noting that all European countries are falling into recessions. But by 2026, Rosensweig expects all the lagged effects of the Pandemic and Russia will be gone and he predicts the economies of the US, Mexico and Canada will grow about 2%.

“This is not surprising because we are tied together in a free trade arena and we are contiguous,” said Rosensweig. “The good thing for Mexico and Canada is, even if we have a recession, we are quite likely to have a recession in the next few quarters.”

Rosensweig said Vietnam has been the fastest growing country the last 10 years, and the US should diversify its supply chains away from China to Vietnam. Another beneficiary is nearshoring to Mexico and Canada. Also, China’s population is now declining and India is on track to become the largest population—making India an attractive country for supply chains.

“Vietnam and India are where the future is going,” said Rosensweig.

Warehousing exploded in the U.S. during the pandemic due to increases in e-commerce sales, but last mile delivery was the fastest growing job market in the entire United States,Rosensweig said. Now, some of that is slowing down and layoffs at Amazon are part of the fallout.

Raising the minimum wage is also no longer part of the economic discussion as many companies have a labor shortage and realize they can’t attract workers to work for a minimum wage in the US. “You can’t find a worker to work in a warehouse or in a store for under $22 an hour, so raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has become irrelevant,” said Rosensweig.

US Economic Update

Keith Prather, Managing Director and Partner, Armada Corporate Intelligence, delivered the US economic update at Jump Start 2023. Based on the data, the US economy may be slowing down, but there’s still a pretty good story to tell, Prather said. There’s approximately $75 billion in corporate investment and capex spending, making this year among the strongest in history.

Prather noted that inventory sales ratios today are still lower than they should be compared to pre-pandemic 2019, but that’s not the big story. “The story is if you’ve got a sales force and you’re sending them out and telling them where the freight opportunities are, you’ve got to break each of those categories down,” said Prather.

Prior to November of 2022, 50% of the US was considered to be overstocked. That percentage jumped to about 73% in November, indicating that the inventory build rate was going faster than the consumption rate. This led to a slight freight slowdown and the swoon that the supply chain industry sees now, Prather said.

“About 25% of those industries are still understocked. Chemical supply chains are still broken and they’re still scrambling to get back in cycle. We see the same thing with machinery, specifically agricultural machinery. They’re still missing component parts,” said Prather.

The three-day SMC3 Jump Start 2023 supply chain conference facilitates meaningful knowledge transfer and collaboration between logistics and transportation professionals from carriers, shippers, logistics service providers and technology verticals. To learn more about SMC³ supply chain conferences, visit

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Categories: Education, Supply Chain