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Avoiding Downtime: 8 Strategies to Maintain Productivity Across the Supply Chain

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Avoiding Downtime: 8 Strategies to Maintain Productivity Across the Supply Chain

Every organization wants to avoid supply chain downtime, yet it’s rife throughout the industry. Delays and disruptions are all too common, but that doesn’t mean they’re unavoidable. Supply chains can prevent these scenarios by implementing the right strategies.

Even in the most efficient supply chains, there’s room to improve. Downtime costs $1 million or more per hour for 40% of organizations today, so businesses should aim for no downtime at all.

Here are eight strategies to help reach that goal.

1. Maximize Visibility

One of the most important steps in avoiding supply chain downtime is increasing transparency. If businesses had more real-time insight into their supply chain partners, they could see disruptions as they arise and adapt faster. These quick reactions can help mitigate or even eliminate downtime.

More than half of all businesses have poor supply chain visibility and 63% don’t use any technology to monitor them. The two are related. Supply chains can maximize their visibility by implementing more technologies like the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

IoT devices can provide real-time insights and AI can analyze this data to predict incoming disruptions. Supply chains should partner with businesses willing to implement more IoT technologies and share this data to gain comprehensive insights into their operations. When that happens, they can enable faster, more effective reactions.

2. Improve Workplace Safety

Workplace injuries are another leading cause of downtime. Responding to safety incidents translates into lost productivity and injured workers may be unable to work at their full capacity for days. If supply chains improved workplace safety, they’d enable higher productivity.

Fall hazards are some of the most important risks to address, as 20% of all workplace injuries come from falls. Using proper safety harnesses and lift platforms can help, but removing workers from hazards entirely is the safest option. Warehouses can use automated systems to handle the most dangerous work, like retrieving items from high shelves to minimize risks.

3. Employ Predictive Maintenance

Supply chains must also address machine maintenance. Equipment malfunctions make large industrial facilities lose 323 production hours annually, costing $172 million overall. Supply chain organizations can minimize these errors and their expenses by switching to predictive maintenance strategies.

While implementing predictive maintenance can be expensive, its long-term benefits outweigh the costs. By enabling need-based repair, these practices prevent unexpected, costly breakdowns while simultaneously eliminating downtime from unneeded repairs. Conventional preventive maintenance only addresses downtime from the former and run-to-failure approaches address neither.

Predictive maintenance will also improve safety, further reducing unplanned downtime. When equipment runs in better conditions, it avoids breakdowns or errors that could endanger employees.

4. Create Buffers

While supply chains should do all they can to prevent disruptions, some are unavoidable. Since it’s impossible to avoid unexpected situations entirely, supply chain organizations should ensure
they can maintain productivity when things don’t go as planned. Buffers are a crucial part of these backup plans.

This practice goes against lean principles, but lean operations quickly fall apart in the face of disruption. Businesses don’t need massive reserve inventories, but they should avoid just-in-
time practices for some critical parts and products.

Companies should multiply their average daily use of a product by its average lead time. Then, they can subtract that total from the product of maximum daily sales and maximum lead time. The resulting answer is their ideal buffer inventory level for that product.

5. Keep Employees Engaged

Maintaining an engaged workforce is a crucial but often overlooked part of avoiding downtime. Having unengaged employees leads to turnover, hindering supply chains’ productivity, but an engaged workforce will be more productive. Businesses can maximize engagement by listening to and meeting their workers’ needs and wants.

Financial support like higher salaries and better benefits help, but they’re not the only ways to improve engagement. Since one in five American adults experience a mental health issue every year, businesses should also ensure they provide support for these concerns and encourage communication. Flexible schedules, opportunities for upward mobility, recognition for commendable work, and workplace fairness initiatives can also help.

6. Emphasize Training

Another employee-related strategy to prevent downtime is to train workers more thoroughly. As much as 70% of unplanned downtime results from human error, so more knowledgeable and skilled workers will translate into less downtime. Process improvements to simplify operations help prevent these mistakes, but businesses shouldn’t overlook the importance of training.

Onboarding and training should cover what to do in various unexpected or uncommon scenarios. If employees don’t know what to do when something unusual happens, they could take longer than needed to look into the situation or ask around. In contrast, if there’s a set protocol to follow, they can minimize downtime and adapt accordingly.

7. Diversify Suppliers

Single dependencies in supply chains can reduce operating costs, but they’re prone to disruption. Supply chain organizations should eliminate these if they want to minimize downtime, which means diversifying their suppliers. If businesses can source parts or products from multiple facilities, a disruption or delay at one won’t jeopardize the entire supply chain.

As supply chains diversify, they should re-shore or near-shore some of their sources. Shortening the distance between facilities can enable faster reactions if an unexpected scenario arises. International travel is also more likely to encounter difficulties, thanks to uneven regulations and government relationships between countries.

The need for diversification has become increasingly clear over the past few years. In 2021, 55% of supply chain leaders began dual sourcing raw materials to make their networks more resilient and 25% embraced regionalization.

8. Track Downtime

Regardless of what other steps a supply chain takes, it should monitor its downtime. When a disruption or delay occurs, businesses should record its source, how long it takes to resolve,
what fixed it, and similar data. This information will reveal ways supply chains can improve in the future.

Downtime tracking will also help organizations set relevant KPIs and benchmarks, guiding their long-term improvements. Since every operation is unique, this data is essential, as it provides real-world context for what does and doesn’t work in a specific scenario.

Maintaining Supply Chain Productivity Is Crucial

Every business wants to maximize productivity, but supply chains face more pressure than most. Disruptions in this industry will ripple across other companies and sectors, and by the same token, supply chain optimization will improve entire industries.

Downtime may be common, but it’s not necessarily unavoidable. If supply chain organizations implement these eight strategies, they can minimize unplanned downtime and mitigate it if it does occur.

employee job accountability supply chain How to Identify and Address Productivity Gaps Among Supply Chain Employees

How to Identify and Address Productivity Gaps Among Supply Chain Employees

Productivity has always been a leading concern for supply chain companies. As the industry grows increasingly competitive and faces mounting disruptions, it’s become an even more pressing concern.

A recent survey found that nine in ten supply chain leaders say they need to increase hiring to meet peak demand. Ongoing labor shortages can make that difficult, so organizations must also make the most of their current workforce. They need to maximize their productivity.

Boosting productivity begins with finding areas where it needs improvement. Here’s how supply chains can identify and address productivity gaps.

Identifying Productivity Gaps

It can be difficult to know where to begin with productivity optimization. Supply chain leaders may feel they’re already at their peak efficiency. Alternatively, they may notice room to improve but not understand what specifically to address.

Supply chain organizations can identify productivity gaps through a few different means. Going through these three processes and comparing the results can help uncover where the most critical areas to address are.

Benchmark Against Competitors

The first step in finding productivity gaps is comparing key performance indicators (KPIs) to competitors. Recent SEC guidance requires KPIs to come with disclosures like clear metric definitions and how a company calculates them. Companies can take that information to understand their competitors’ success and how they measure it.

Once supply chain organizations have these benchmarks, they can compare them to their own KPIs. It’s important to account for any discrepancies between the companies’ metrics and measuring techniques to provide the most accurate comparison.

Comparing KPIs can reveal where some productivity gaps may lie. Even if a company outperforms competitors overall, it may fall behind its benchmarks in one or two specific areas. Those areas could be home to productivity pain points. While these differences can arise from many places, any shortcoming warrants further investigation.

Compare Goals to Results

Next, supply chain leaders can look internally. A company may perform well compared to others in the industry, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. Reviewing goals and how recent results compare to those targets can reveal more shortcomings.

The easiest way to perform this analysis is to compare current KPIs to past goals. Has the company met the targets they’ve set in the past? Are they on track to meet future goals? The categories that show the largest discrepancies between expectations and results are likely where the largest productivity gaps lie.

It’s important to break KPIs into specific categories to isolate problem areas. At the same time, businesses must also map the relationships between KPIs to see how they affect each other. One category’s performance may hinge on another’s, so it’s important to understand these relationships.

Survey Employees

Employees are an excellent but often overlooked resource for identifying productivity gaps. While workers may not have a complete picture of management processes, they understand their specific workflows intimately. This familiarity can give them insight into areas for improvement that management lacks.

Studies show that happy workers are 13% more productive, so the source of lackluster performance may lie in employee satisfaction. Regular surveys and interviews can help reveal which factors impact this satisfaction, both positively and negatively. Common themes between workers’ responses are likely key productivity blockers.

Similarly, employee surveys can ask about workflow improvements that workers think could help. It’s highly likely that at least one worker has noticed how part of a process slows their work down. If multiple employees talk about the same process hindering their productivity, it’s worth looking into.

Addressing Productivity Gaps

After identifying productivity gaps, supply chain organizations must work to fix them. The most effective strategy will depend on the specific gap in question, but these generally fall into a few distinct categories. Adjustments in training, work environments and technology can maximize productivity in virtually every area.

Emphasize Training

Productivity gaps often result from skills gaps. That could mean that employees lack technical knowledge and abilities to streamline their work, or it could apply to soft skills. In either case, more comprehensive training can help remove these productivity barriers.

Seemingly small adjustments can make a considerable difference here. For example, teaching warehouse employees proper lifting techniques and the importance of using them can prevent burnout from repetitive stress. Employees will then be able to work longer before getting tired, maximizing their productivity.

Similar methods can work with office staff, too. Employees should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds after every 20 minutes of looking at a computer screen. This will reduce eye strain, preventing the loss of productivity and focus that comes with it. Teaching office employees tips like this can help them consistently perform their best.

Address the Work Environment and Culture

A distracting work environment is another common cause of productivity loss in supply chains. Softer but more consistent lighting and comfortable working temperatures can minimize environmental distractions that hinder productivity. Similarly, white-noise machines can drown out distracting noise in office settings.

Workplace culture plays a substantial role in this area, too. One of the most important things to address in this regard is communication. Employees and managers must consistently communicate so everyone knows what others expect of them and people learn of changes or issues faster. Holding regular meetings and using instant messaging platforms can help.

Making sure the workplace is engaging and empowering is another crucial step. Listen to employees to learn what they need or would appreciate to feel more respected and engaged. When workers feel satisfied in their work environment, they’ll be more productive.

Capitalize on Technology

If workplaces face more concrete productivity challenges, technology may be the answer. Automation is one of the best tools for improving productivity, as it minimizes repetitive, non-value-adding tasks, letting employees accomplish more and remain engaged.

Some of the most valuable automation applications in warehouses are picking and material moving. Walking accounts for more than 50% of picking time, so these workflows are ripe for automation. Robots can easily handle many of these processes, and human workers can then focus on other, less inefficient tasks.

Automation can benefit office workers, too. Robotic process automation (RPA) can handle repetitive tasks like scheduling, data entry and file organization to give employees more time to perform more value-adding work. Programs that consolidate multiple processes to reduce clicking between windows are also helpful.

Optimizing Productivity Starts With Finding Gaps

Supply chains today must be agile, but to achieve that, they must address shortcomings within their operations. Recognizing where they can improve is the first step to becoming more productive.

When supply chain leaders understand and follow these steps, they can make the most of their workforce. They can then accomplish more work in less time, outperforming their competitors and ensuring future success.


What Contractors Need to Consider When Purchasing Equipment Telematics

Telematics can be an invaluable tool for contractors who want to track and monitor key assets more effectively, like heavy equipment and vehicles. The rise of smart technology and other Industry 4.0 tech has made these systems more accessible and powerful, encouraging contractors to invest.

However, implementing telematics can be costly and time-consuming, and not every system will provide the specific benefits a fleet owner or logistics professional needs. Knowledge of these factors will help any contractor make more informed decisions when purchasing telematics for heavy equipment.

Feature Considerations

System features are one of the most important factors for contractors wanting to purchase telematics equipment. Not all providers offer the same options, and pricing for equipment and devices can vary significantly depending on what a particular contractor needs.

More complex telematics systems can also be more expensive to purchase and maintain. If a contractor just needs the ability to track assets in real-time, functionality beyond GPS- or RFID-based tracking may make the system more expensive while not providing much additional value.

These are some of the most common telematics systems and the ones a contractor is most likely to need:

1. Real-time location tracking: Most systems offer GPS-based tracking that allows fleet managers to monitor the location of assets in real-time.

2. Alerts: Automatic notices trigger when customizable conditions are met — like assets moving after work hours or faster than local speed limits or scheduled maintenance alerts.

3. Asset and driver data reports: In addition to real-time reporting, most systems will also offer reports or dashboards that sum up recent events and patterns of usage. Contractors can use this information to track driver behavior, asset performance or machine health.

4. Asset diagnostics: Telematics systems can integrate directly with important vehicle or asset systems like engine control units (ECUs), providing them with access to data from sensors and monitoring devices. This allows the system to provide important information on vehicle health and performance to system owners — alerting them automatically when faults are detected or maintenance is needed.

5. Customer service: Dedicated customer support lines provide assistance with telematics system operation, troubleshooting and maintenance scheduling.

The specific data points that asset telematics will track can vary from system to system. Providers may offer monitoring for a wide range of data, including information on seatbelt usage, emissions, dashcam footage, fuel consumption, fuel efficiency, idling and performance.

Selecting a telematics system that offers the features a contractor needs will help them avoid overspending or selecting one that isn’t a good fit.

Contractors should also consider synergy and integration with existing technology. A business that takes advantage of IoT monitoring may want to investigate how the two systems could share data or be configured to supply information to the same dashboard.

Businesses that take advantage of digital twins may want to investigate how additional data provided by telematics may allow them to more accurately model construction sites, buildings or business operations.

Purchasing vs. Renting Telematics for Fleet Management

Often, telematics providers offer the option to either purchase or rent the equipment. While buying a system comes with some advantages — permanent ownership of the hardware and more control over telematics maintenance — renting may be a better option for some contractors.

As with construction equipment, renting can be an effective way to close asset gaps that emerge when systems fail, require maintenance or need replacement.

Suppose a rented telematics device stops working or needs maintenance. In that case, a contractor may be able to more easily procure a replacement or even request one from their provider while the rented equipment is being repaired.

Professional vs. Self-Installation

If a contractor isn’t purchasing new equipment with telematics systems that come pre-installed, they, their team or a third party will have to connect it to each asset they want to track.

This installation process can be involved and time-consuming. Any mistakes the contractor makes can negatively impact the telematics system’s performance or damage components.

Also, the asset in which the telematics system is being installed will be unavailable during this time. Troubleshooting can cause it to be unavailable for longer.

Professional installation is generally less risky but will be more expensive. The cost will typically depend on the system’s complexity, the number of vehicles or assets, and the contractor’s location — installation service rates can fluctuate significantly from region to region.

As with self-installation, the contractor will also need to prepare for significant downtime and loss of productivity while the system is installed.

A professional installer can likely work faster than someone without telematics experience, but all installations will take time.

Equipment Telematics System Security

The growing threat of cybercrime means contractors should also consider how telematics may make their businesses less safe. These systems generate so much data and are typically connected with other essential components, making the overall network more challenging to secure.

Contractors should consider how they’ll keep their telematics secure and how their provider addresses safety issues.

When shopping for a new telematics system, contractors should ask about the importance of security in the provider’s design process. They should also ask about how data is kept safe at the device firmware level, while it’s in transit and when it’s stored in the cloud.

Contractors should also ask about the steps they can take to keep their telematics systems and business networks secure. Providers may be able to help end-users configure them in a way that protects these systems from an attack.

Keep These Considerations in Mind When Buying Telematics

The potential benefits of a telematics system make the technology a good investment for contractors. However, not every one is the same. Varying features and payment options mean companies should carefully consider available offerings.

Contractors wanting the simplest and cheapest system should consider a rented telematics solution that primarily offers GPS tracking. Businesses in need of analytics, behavior tracking and other complex solutions may need more expensive systems. Researching needs and options before investing in telematics will ensure the system is the right choice.

3 Steps Companies Can Take To Improve Mental Health In The Workplace

Sick days among workers are commonly associated with physical ailments, but mental health issues also account for frequent absences. A report from the 2018 Mental Health in the Workplace Summit showed that more people miss work due to stress and anxiety than for physical illness or injury.
Dealing with mental health can be a delicate issue for both employers and employees. Some think it carries a stigma, thus employees may attempt to hide their problem. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that less than half of American adult workers felt their companies supported the well-being of their employees.
Yet more companies, cognizant of productivity and cost issues associated with employee absences, are starting to implement mental health initiatives as part of their workplace wellness programs.
“Employees try to hide what they’re going through because they fear the negative consequences of being discovered. And these fears are justified,” says Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio (, formerly Vice President, Health and Wellness, at Prudential and founder of GreenGate Leadership®. “Many otherwise capable managers become very uncomfortable when they hear one of their team members mention words like stress, anxiety, and depression.
 “Forward-thinking employers are implementing initiatives that break stigma and improve access to effective care. They recognize the role of leaders at all levels in creating positive, respectful, health-promoting work environments. As has often been said, culture trumps strategy every time. An employer can have all the right policies in place, but it’s the culture that either brings these to life or makes them a joke.”
Dolan-Del Vecchio’s tips for employers:
Break the stigma. Studies indicate one in five American adults experience a form of mental illness. “Like most health conditions, these are most effectively treated when identified early,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says. “Stigma causes many who suffer to deny their need for care and, therefore, delay seeking it. Senior execs are in the best position to break the stigma. They can share their personal story if they live with a mental health condition, talk about how they have supported others, and sincerely encourage their employees to get the care they deserve.”
Improve access to effective care. “Hold your benefits provider system accountable for effective care delivery,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says. “Take a searching and fearless look at how well your organization’s mental health benefits actually serve those in need. You do that by creating an anonymous feedback mechanism for your employees and their family members. Sadly, I can almost guarantee that the results will show need for significant improvement.”
Train leaders. “Stress,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says, “is the enemy of health and sustained productivity. More than any other factor, our immediate supervisor creates the culture of our workplace. When leaders at every organizational level treat those who report to them with an attitude of caring and respect, including respect for initiative, autonomy, diversity, and reasonable limits when it comes to productivity, the best organizational results will follow.”
“It’s in everyone’s best interest for employers to fight the stigma linked to mental health issues, ensure medical benefit partners are delivering on their promises, and make sure leaders of people are up to the task,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says.
About Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio
Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio ( is an author, speaker, family therapist, and leadership and life skills consultant. His books include Simple Habits of Exceptional (But Not Perfect) ParentsThe Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice From Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups andMaking Love: Playing Power: Men, Women, and the Rewards of Intimate Justice. Ken founded GreenGate Leadership® after retiring from his role as Vice President, Health and Wellness, at Prudential, where he was responsible for behavioral health services for the company’s 20,000 U.S. Employees. Ken’s team’s work led Prudential to receive the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Organizational Excellence Award. Ken is a monthly NBC TV affiliate on-air guest and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Fast Company, Bloomberg, Ignites, Entrepreneur, Fox Business News, The Chicago Tribune, Inc. Magazine, Working Mother, HR Executive and other media. In 2016 Ken was named Corporate Leader of the Year by the National Alliance of Mental Illness’ New York City-metro chapter.


Topics of discussion included: terminal overload and new technologies to increase throughput; tightened trucking capacity; needs of shippers and adaptive change in the supply chain

IANA Intermodal Expo 2018: Key takeaways and discussion topics

Beautiful Long Beach, California was the setting for IANA’s (Intermodal Association of North America) annual expo, the IANA Intermodal Expo 2018. Over 2,000 representatives from the intermodal and transportation communities touched down to present, converse, debate and exchange ideas surrounding trends and issues shaping the future of the larger intermodal supply chain community.

We had the pleasure of exhibiting and attending with those 2,000 plus attendees, and this year’s expo was chalk full of over 60 industry experts and a staggering 125 plus exhibitors showcasing some of the most technologically advanced products and services the intermodal industry has seen.

Day 1:

The morning of Day 1 kicked off with Bill Strauss, senior economist and adviser with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Mr. Strauss managed to bring an initial, collective smile to the room, noting that the 2018 expo is meeting at a time of strong economic growth. Consumer spending and GDP are up, the economy has been growing at an average annual rate of 2.3 percent (since 2009), and if this continues through July of next year new records will likely be reached.

The intermodal industry numbers support Mr. Strauss, as intermodal volumes were up 7 percent (as of August 2018) compared to last year with the third-party logistics sector also expanding – global estimates peg the market to reach $968 billion this year, compared to $869 billion last year.

IANA is a “connecting force” for the intermodal freight sector, bringing together the most relevant (and up and coming) players via the creation of spaces, such as the Intermodal Expo, to stay informed, drive industry success and strengthen the broader community. IANA members count on a wealth of resources, but most important, access to relevant trends that are shaping the sector at breakneck speeds.

Day 2:

A handful of truly remarkable innovations were on-hand at this year’s expo. A recurring issue year in and year out is terminal overload. Moderated by Taso Zografos, Principal at ZDEVCO, the panel, “Intermodal Terminal Overload: How Can Technology Help?” brought together a handful of expert panelists on the issue where autonomous vehicles, automated stacking cranes and similar “smart equipment” was presented. Warehouses, marine terminals and rail ramps are fantastic for “smart equipment” due to little vehicle traffic and confined areas. The next challenge however will be rolling this out to harbor drayage and the open road. As Wade Long, regional vice president of Volvo Trucks astutely noted, heavy-duty diesel trucks, many operated by living, breathing drivers, will still be around for at least the next 50 years.

Another recurring theme throughout the two-day event was productivity, especially in a time of truck driver shortages. This has been a troubling point for some time, where a shortage of drivers produces bottlenecks throughout the supply chain thus hampering productivity at a macro level. Larry Gross, president of Gross Transportation Consulting, moderated an engaging panel surrounding this very issue. Driver productivity has been on the decline, and Phil Shook, director of intermodal for C.H. Robinson, communicated it best noting that the industry standard used to be 500 miles per driver, and that has now dipped into the 400s. The room agreed that getting an extra half-a-load per driver per day is the proverbial Holy Grail.

Next year’s expo will be held September 15-17, 2019 in that same jewel beside the bay – Long Beach, California. Pack your swim-trunks, this is an expo you don’t want to miss! Register to exhibit before space fills up or if you are just looking to attend, registration opens up in March of 2019.



New HSBC Report Urges Pro-Trade Policies

New York, NY – Though the US “continues to confront a competitiveness challenge of too few quality jobs and too little income growth, there is a future in which America can create millions of good jobs connected to the world via international trade and investment,” according to “Made in America – Made for Trade,” a new report released by HSBC.

Reaching that future, though, “will require US policies that are based on a sound understanding of how American companies succeed in today’s dynamic global economy, and of the critical role that trade finance plays in that success,” writes the report’s author, Prof. Matthew Slaughter of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

The US, he concludes, could boost productivity and revitalize the economy in the next decade if the country “pursues an expansive and connected set of pro-trade policies in the areas of international trade, investment, immigration, tax, and the social safety net.”

The report’s major points:

* In absolute dollars, US exports have more than doubled from$1.04 trillion in 2003 to $2.26 trillion in 2013. “The net result has been a commensurate surge in how important exports are to the total US economy.”

* In the past three years, exports as a share of US GDP reached about 13.5 percent; the highest share since at least 1947.

* Exporters and importers “are more capital-intensive, more productive, and pay higher wages – about 15-20 percent higher for companies that trade and about 25-30 percent higher for multinational companies.”

* The tally of US companies that export has risen steadily in recent years, reaching a record 304,867 in 2012. Small and medium-sized companies – those that employ 500 workers or fewer – accounted for over 97.7 percent of this total count, at nearly 298,000.

* International trade “has boosted annual US income by at least 10 percentage points of GDP relative to what it would have been absent this global engagement. That translates into an immense aggregate gain in 2013 of at least $1.7 trillion, an average gain of over $13,600 per US household per year.”

* An aggressive pro-trade policy initiative could create, over the next decade, about 10 million new high-paying trade-connected jobs in America: one million per year or about 100,000 per month. This is indeed an aggressive goal. But it is also one that is no doubt attainable.

The HSBC Made for Trade report was crafted as an on-tour “national conversation” with leaders in business, government, industry and academia in four US cities whose economies have been shaped by global trade holding discussions on the role of global trade in today’s economy.

The national tour looks at the contribution of international flow of goods, services and capital to the US economy, and the opportunities for American businesses brought about by global trade.