The University of Houston's Port of the Future Conference – a yearly international event focusing on the operational, infrastructural and security challenges that seaports face on a daily basis – is a gathering of some of the best partnerships and brightest minds in global maritime sector. Each year, speakers from ports and firms around the world participate in panels that cover topics ranging from safety and cybersecurity threats to optimization, and environmental compliance.
This year's fourth annual conference brought representatives of 50 seaports from practically every continent to the Hilton University of Houston to interface with industry leaders, exhibitors, students and professional resource partners. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in panel discussions, presentations and a competitive research poster exhibition over the course of the three-day event.
"This conference is really unusual in that we have major global stakeholders in the port sector, but we also have major policymakers from Washington, and then we have academics such as myself, so it's this eclectic mix,” said Professor Margaret Kidd, Undergraduate Program Director of Supply Chain and Logistics Technology (SCLT).
“You hear all kinds of dialogue in the hallways. We had a panel earlier today featuring some of my friends from Georgia Tech, and one of them, Benoit Montreuil is basically considered the father of the physical Internet. We also had people such as John D. McCown that worked with Malcolm McLean, who invented the shipping container back in the 1950s, so you had half the room lined up to ask questions about that, too."
Kidd added, “We want our industry partners and our academic partners to engage [with each other].”
Kidd chaired the conference's student research competition, which featured poster presentations from students at UH, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Texas Southern University, Houston Community College, University of Miami, Rider University, Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl Bentzel, also in attendance, offered commentary on the research displayed at the conference in addition to contributing as a featured speaker. Submissions to the 2023 Student Poster Contest can be viewed here.
Among the many topical panels this year was the Inland Port Expansion session, moderated by Kidd, featuring Inland Port Greer located in Greer, South Carolina. Port Greer is a dry port – an intermodal terminal located off the water – situated along Interstate 85 between Greenville, S.C. and Spartanburg, S.C. The port reaches 94 million consumers within 500 miles, or a one-day truck trip and is connected by rail to the Port of Charleston.
"This region of the country is one of the fastest growing regions, and we feel like these are very unique locations to provide a service to the heavy industry and manufacturing industry in that area," explained Director of Inland Ports for South Carolina Port Authority Mike Hoffman, who served as a panel representative.
Further contributing to the Greer case study panel were two representatives of HPC Hamburg Port Consulting GmbH – Pablo Bowen-Bobenrieth, Associate Partner and VP Latin America & Caribbean, and Dorothe Görtz, Terminal Planning Specialist – who also, along with Dr. Lawrence Henesey, VP North America from HPC, offered a guest lecture to SCLT and Industrial Engineering students at UH Sugar Land the evening before the conference. The Hamburg-based firm is working with Inland Port Greer to offer a fresh perspective as the port moves forward with new and ambitious expansion efforts. The composition of this panel – the collaboration of a German consulting house and a South Carolina port, led by a University of Houston program director – illustrates a near-perfect microcosm of the larger conference and its collaborative, problem-solving approach.
The 2024 Port of the Future Conference is currently scheduled for April 2-4 in Houston. For more information and updates, visit its LinkedIn page.