Many Northeast Ohio companies receive raw materials or components from European suppliers, or ship their finished products to European customers. The cargo is transported by truck or rail to New York or Baltimore, and then loaded onto ocean-going ships bound for Europe — a longstanding logistical process for Midwestern businesses. However, this route is also expensive, slow and has lengthy delays, especially at the Port of New York.

An innovative concept is being developed to solve these problems. Small, Seaway-sized ships could be loaded at the Port of Cleveland, located next to FirstEnergy Stadium. The Spliethoff ocean carriers then begin a dedicated round trip to Antwerp, Belgium. Dubbed the Cleveland-Europe Express, its service is scheduled to begin in April 2014.

Smart Business spoke with Bradley Hull Ph.D., Associate professor and Reid Chair, Department of Management Marketing and Logistics, John Carroll University, who together with the Dutch Consul laid the groundwork for this project, to learn more about this project and what it could mean for local businesses.

What are the business advantages of the Cleveland-Europe Express? 

The advantages are the savings that could be realized in time and money. The Cleveland-Europe Express takes four to five fewer days to make the trip to Europe than the existing route. This makes the Cleveland-Europe Express ideal for Just In Time manufacturers or anyone needing quick deliveries.

Money can also be saved using the new route because water is inherently the least costly form of transportation. The existing route incurs excessive costs from the unnecessary and expensive overland transport to the East Coast, double handling at the East Coast port, expensive ocean carrier rates to Europe, and lost time due to East Coast congestion. The Cleveland-Europe Express is all-water and as such avoids many of these problems and costs.

Companies also gain more control over their cargo since this method relies on fewer people handling the products. Businesses are no longer dependent on long distance overland transportation and handlers in New York. This means companies face less risk of loss or damage.

The service will run on a reliable fixed schedule. Initially, the service will run once per month to Europe. As business grows, the service could become bi-monthly or weekly.

What could the establishment of the Cleveland-Europe Express mean to Northeast Ohio? 

Companies contributing to the success of the Cleveland-Europe Express help create jobs in Northeast Ohio. Ports are ‘engines of job creation.’ As business at the Port increases, the downtown area becomes a more attractive location for distribution centers and manufacturers that would benefit from prime transportation access. If successful, the Cleveland-Europe Express could contribute to the revitalization of downtown Cleveland and ultimately Northeast Ohio.

How was the Cleveland-Europe Express developed? 

For the past eight years there has been a strong feeling that such a service could be economically viable. John Carroll University and the Dutch Consul have conducted analyses, held four Seaway conferences, partnered with Erasmus University of Rotterdam to get a European perspective of the project’s practicability, given numerous presentations to local and regional groups, and organized a trade mission to the Netherlands was held this past summer. There is much excitement building for the potential of this shipping route to revitalize Northeast Ohio and increase the viability of Northeast Ohio companies.

Bradley Hull Ph.D., Associate professor and Reid Chair, Department of Management Marketing and Logistics, John Carroll University. Reach him at (216) 397-4182 or bzhull@jcu.edu.

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