Pandemic proved Dayton’s key role in logistics industry

Dayton’s importance as a regional logistics powerhouse was amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic as e-commerce boomed and consumer products companies struggled to fill store shelves, an industry expert said.

Procter & Gamble’s Dayton Mixing Center grew 11 percent last year and the company switched up some of its processes to get store shelves filled with toilet paper, cleaning supplies and other essential items, said Ken Eckrote, senior director of market operations for the distribution facility near the Dayton International Airport.

Eckrote gave the morning keynote speech today at the sixth annual Southwest Ohio Logistics Conference, which was held at Sinclair Community College.

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Breakout sessions covered supply chain automation, workforce development, cybersecurity and DriveOhio smart logistics solutions.

Eckrote outlined how P&G changed how it ships products and from where, allowing a broader mix of products in trucks so that they tend to be more full and to help customers reduce inventory.

The company is becoming increasingly automated at its distribution facilities, with a goal of reducing the time from order to delivery from five days to to 48 hours, he said.

Plans call for fulfillment centers to be fully automated, digitally operated with integrated customization and artificial intelligence technology, he said.

Labor shortages and wage pressure are driving demand for more robots, but there is also a need for humans in the mix because robots can’t do everything, said Roger Christian, divisional leader for new business development at Motoman Robotics Inc., a division of Yaskawa America Inc., in Miamisburg.

“The biggest problem is finding labor and high turnover in this market,” he said.

Business leaders are hoping that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s cancellation of the federal $300 weekly supplemental unemployment insurance will push people to apply for jobs, said Mark Jones, president and CEO of Miami Industrial Trucks Inc. He thanked Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, for advocating that DeWine end the payments this month.

Congress approved the supplemental unemployment funding through Sept. 6 but Ohio is one of 25 GOP-led states that have canceled the payments. Some economists and critics of the move say people have not returned to work because of difficulty finding affordable child care and fear of catching COVID-19 at work.

Sinclair workforce development staff said there are multiple programs at the college that can help companies find and train workers, including apprenticeships and internships for students.

“It truly is that blend of working and learning,” said Carlina Figueroa, assistant director of the office of work-based learning.

Conference attendees also heard about DriveOhio, which is working to advance the design, development, testing, use and regulation of autonomous and connected technologies. DriveOhio is looking for input from the logistics industry as far as what it needs in the future, said Rich Granger, managing director, workforce and economic development for DriveOhio.

To be successful autonomous and connected technologies need to come with savings on labor, fuel and time, said Pam Fisher, director of economic development for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“It’s got to meet that economic level,” she said.

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Truck Associations closed out the conference, saying that truck drivers were among the heroes of the pandemic.

He said the nation’s 3.8 million drivers couldn’t work from home. They were on the road delivering needed supplies to the nation.

“When you’re moving 71 percent of the United States economy, it’s going to be a truck and a truck driver that gets that done,” Spear said.

The conference was hosted by the Dayton Area Logistics Association, which is part of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

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