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Breaking business barriers: JCU hosts international trade conference

September 13th, 2012

On Monday, while most JCU students were in classrooms learning how to become the business leaders of tomorrow, the business leaders of today were busy at a conference in the Muldoon Atrium of the Dolan Center for Science and Technology, presenting brand new research that will augment trade between the Netherlands and the Great Lakes region. Even the consul general of the Netherlands in Cleveland was present.

The Sept. 10 conference, called “The Netherlands: Gateway to the Great Lakes,” brought the United States, Canada and the Netherlands together to work towards a more globally connected commercial world.

According to Bradley Hull, an associate professor in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics, the conference was “a screaming success,” with over 150 business people from all three countries and many U.S. and Canadian seaport cities.

“They [businessmen and women] came from all over,” he said. “There was a great student turnout, too.”

Hull attributes this to strong planning and a general enthusiasm for this project.

“We had a stellar line up of speakers from all over. [By the end of the conference], we had trouble getting them to leave – everyone had ideas,” he said.

Over the past year and a half, the Netherlands Consulate General in Chicago funded a study to find the lowest-mileage and most cost-effective route for several cargoes that are currently shipped to East Coast ports, then either transported by truck or train into the Great Lakes and Midwest regions.

The study, done last year by two Erasmus University graduate students studying abroad at JCU, found that the St. Lawrence Seaway is the most direct route between Europe and the Great Lakes. The Seaway goes from the Great Lakes, along North American waterways, into the Atlantic Ocean and straight across the Atlantic to Rotterdam, Netherlands (Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe, which connects the Atlantic to the rest of the 500 million person-European Union).

According to David Gutheil, the vice president of maritime and logistics for the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, this new route has the potential to increase jobs in the region, reduce the cost of shipping and increase the economy and efficiency of trade between Europe and the United States.

“If a new service comes to the port, jobs would be created as a result of the increased tonnage activity,” said Gutheil. “For example, longshoremen would load and unload the vessels, truck drivers would move the additional cargo to and from the port and local companies could possibly add manufacturing or warehouse jobs.”

Furthermore, this route is tremendously efficient, said Gutheil.

“Shipping cargo via an all-water route between our port and ports in Northern Europe can be just as efficient and sometimes faster than using a combination of East Coast ports and over-land transportation to move goods to or from the Midwest,” he said. “In addition, moving goods directly into the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway saves on fuel consumption (maritime transportation uses less fuel than truck or rail), and also removes trucks from the highway system, thus saving on infrastructure spending and making our highways less congested.”

The project was originally the idea of Hull and his friend, Charles “Arnie” de la Porte, the Dutch Consul in Cleveland. Before coming to JCU, Hull was in the oil and chemical industry for 28 years, and gained an extensive background in logistics.

Hull explained that the idea to explore the possibility of opening the Seaway to more business came about from discussions he had with de la Porte. They both felt that there should definitely be more business through this route.

“It’s a route that has been heavily used [in the past], but isn’t used anymore,” he said. The Cleveland port, located by Browns Stadium, currently receives one or two ships every two weeks. If the St. Lawrence Seaway began to be used more, this number could increase to as many as three or four ships per week.

“That would create an enormous amount of jobs,” said Hull. “[And] the ultimate prize is creating jobs in the Great Lakes region.” He calls this type of industry an “engine of job creation,” since it will attract jobs in just about every part of the shipping industry.

However, the conference was only the unveiling of the research.

“We’ve built the first step, but there are still many questions. [It would be great] if we can engage the University more,” said Hull.

He is also very excited about the relationship that JCU has built with Erasmus University, in the Netherlands, largely because Erasmus is affiliated with the port of Rotterdam.

He said, “This is a growing relationship between us and [the University of Erasmus, and it has] really engaged the [shipping] community especially in the Great Lakes region.”

Editor’s note: Students in the Boler School of Business who have an interest in helping with the future of this project can contact David Gutheil with the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority at david.gutheil@portofcleveland.com or Bradley Hull at bzhull@jcu.edu  for more details.