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IANA Intermodal EXPO 2023 Takeaways

September 21, 2023 Kevin Baxter


It's been about a week since 2023's Intermodal EXPO, the annual event by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA), wrapped up, and InTek had a front row seat, with President Shelli Austin also serving as Chairman of the IANA Board this year and CEO Rick LaGore part of a panel on IMCs. So both were in attendance for the full conference in Long Beach to meet and network with colleagues, take in the programming, visit the booths, and more. Here are a few of their takeaways from this year's gathering, in Q&A form.

What were your impressions of EXPO?

Shelli Austin: This year's EXPO exceeded my expectations. You could feel the excitement again from all that were part of this event. With the record attendance for EXPO, the educational sessions, receptions, and exhibits were all full of first-time attendees as well as many returning attendees.

Rick LaGore: The last time I attended the conference was 2016 and have to say there is quite a change from now 7 years ago. While I did encounter some familiar faces from previous years, I also noticed a considerable influx of new attendees.

As I find myself with more years behind me than in front of me, I can't help but appreciate the enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, and active participation of newcomers in the intermodal market. Witnessing this energy and engagement fills me with optimism and renews my passion for an industry I've been a part of for 34 years.

What was the general attitude among attendees about the intermodal (and freight) market right now and going forward?

Shelli: In most of the sessions and talks that I was able to attend and take part in, it seemed that the general consensus was that things are not breaking any records still for Intermodal volumes, but we are seeing a turn in the right direction from what we saw in the first half of 2023.

Rick: The prevailing sentiment I observed was one of optimism for the future. It appeared that everyone recognized the current phase as a natural part of the freight cycle and believed that there would be better times ahead. With this perspective in mind, I witnessed a significant amount of collaboration focused on generating fresh ideas and innovative solutions. These ideas are aimed at improving the experience for shippers when the next upturn in volume occurs.

What was your favorite panel/presentation (aside from Rick’s)?

Shelli: I was not able to attend as many as I had hoped with all the Chairman responsibilities, however my favorite again this year (and usually very high on my list) was the Student Case Competition. This year, the competition was done in a new format that was very true to the real life experience in our industry.

In years past, we have provided the schools the case two weeks in advance and they then do the presentation of the solutions at EXPO. This year, we did not provide them the case until Sunday at noon and they then all went into breakout sessions to put together their solutions for submission six hours later. This new format was very well accepted by the students and the facilitators.Rick LaGore at IANA Panel

Rick: It wasn’t so much about just one panel, but the combination of all the panels offered at the conference. There were extensive discussions on various key topics:

  • Service Improvement: There was a significant emphasis on identifying actions to enhance service quality and increase capacity during the next market upturn.
  • Sustainability Initiatives: Conversations also revolved around exploring sustainability options, particularly in the context of hydrogen and electric technologies.
  • Cross-Border Services: Much was discussed of the new services brought to market from the Class I railroads between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
  • Box Ownership: Growth in container capacity is leaning heavily toward private box owners vs rail-owned. The takeaway questions were what drove the change, will it continue or will it flip back to historical patterns?
  • Data & Technology: Companies are looking at new ways to harness the data for more visibility and proactive AI-driven decisions for improved service.

In addition to these topics, the inclusion of Blue Angel Squadron Leader John Foley in the program was particularly valuable. He introduced insights related to teamwork, communication, commitment, precision, and their relevance in his role. These insights provided valuable takeaways that could be applied across various aspects of our work and endeavors.

Name one thing you learned.

Shelli: Wear comfortable shoes! Just kidding 😊...that is important as this event is like running a marathon. You start at 7 a.m. and do not stop until 9 p.m. (for the hard-core attendees they go much later). The information sharing and networking at this event are like no other event that I have attended. Some of the cutting-edge information that I found to be insightful were the details on electric versus hydrogen cell trucks.

Rick: I didn't necessarily learn anything new; rather, the conference served to enrich my understanding of the topics I had been reading about. It provided an invaluable opportunity for engaging in two-way dialogues with some of the industry's foremost thought leaders. Importantly, I learned the value of planning ahead by scheduling these meetings well in advance of the event, as it became evident that many others had already done so.

What actions are you inspired to take following EXPO?

Shelli: Work through the stack of business cards for all the new contacts made to help improve our solutions for our end customers.

Rick: Keep pushing forward with the business and sales connections made during the conference. Too many times we get bogged down in the day-to-day and pass by the great opportunities that came about from such a great event.

Whether you attended EXPO and would like to have a follow up chat, you're intrigued by the takeaways, or you're looking for freight solutions - intermodal or otherwise - please reach out and we'll be happy to follow up. For more information about InTek, or logistics and supply chain issues in general, check out our Freight Guides.

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