More than just getting stuff from here to there, logistics is the core of every business, and Alaska's unique position on the globe makes it a fascinating place to watch the business of logistics in action.
"People think of it as being trucks and boxes. But if you're in a hospital, the internal workings are the logistics of getting the goods from the central area out to all the departments," says Dr. Phillip Price, chair of the University of Alaska Anchorage's Logistics department. "It's central to every business, basically. Logistics is involved in everything."
The military relies on logistics to coordinate movements of troops and equipment for training exercises or battle. In the motor industry, logistics is involved in the delivery of vehicles for sale, as well as the on-time delivery of parts for repairs. Even events require logistical planning, Price says. Take the Iditarod.
"What are the logistics of getting the people there, the equipment there, even the television people there?" Price asks. Before a single dog hits the trail, weeks of planning have gone into delivering bags full of food and supplies at key points along the trail for each musher, as well as route-checking and lining up volunteers to work every checkpoint. It's all logistics.
While many states have multiple entry points for goods to flow through, Alaska's flow is more limited.
"The uniqueness of up here is that so much comes in by barge, boat, and air," Price says. And most things come by barge or boat.
Port of Plenty
There's a saying about the Port of Anchorage: "If you eat it, drive it, or wear it, it probably came through the Port of Anchorage first."
According to a recent port summary, 90 percent of the consumer goods sold or used in 85 percent of Alaska first came through the Anchorage port. Southeast Alaska receives goods directly from Seattle/Tacoma by barge, but the goods sent to the rest of the state first stopped at Anchorage.
According to 2011 totals, an average of 450 vessels call at the port of Anchorage each year. Of those, 208 are tug/ barges and 206 are container ships like those used by Horizon Lines or Totem Ocean Trailer Express. Another 17 bulk tankers stop in each year, as well as 8 break-bulk ships, or ships carrying uncontainerized cargo, generally cement or drilling pipe.
The port sees about fifty thousand cars, trucks, and vans each year, along with 2.3 million tons of liquid bulk--frequently jet fuel for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson or for Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, low-sulfur diesel fuel, or aviation gasoline. According to 2011 numbers, about 118,000 pounds of break-bulk cargo comes in each year, along with 240,000 twenty-foot cargo containers.
Steamships and barges aren't the only way goods travel to Alaska--plenty gets shipped up over the road through Canada and some gets flown via cargo plane to its destination. Once items are in Alaska, the shipping network fans out like a spider web. Some things go by rail. Some are trucked over the road. And some items are transported to villages by plane while others are sent by river barge.
Carlile Transportation is one of the largest trucking companies in the state, with nearly six hundred employees in Alaska. In June 2013, Saltchuk Resources purchased Carlile Transportation Systems. Saltchuk is a Seattle-based network of transportation and distribution companies that spans the nation, with a focus on Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Their network includes air, land, and sea--Northern Air Cargo, the state's largest all-cargo airline, is also a Saltchuk company.
"It's been a real success story over the past eight months," says James Armstrong, president of TOTE Logistics, about the recent purchase. "Carlile has really strengthened its value, particularly to our Alaska customer base."
TOTE, or Totem Ocean Trailer Express, is another Saltchuk company, and has been since 1982. Between freight carried on Totem Ocean steamships to Alaska or by Northern Air Cargo and delivered by Carlile's fleet of trucks, Saltchuk companies have a hand in delivering much of what is bought and sold in Alaska every day.
"We're one of the biggest movers of air freight, one of the largest customers with the barge and steamship services, one of the largest customers for rail and over-the-road," Armstrong says.
Carlile is also a neutral contract provider, however, meaning the company uses many...