By Alex Binkley, After two postponements, the Hwy H2O Conference will be held this fall in Toronto to take an in-depth look at issues and trends in marine shipping on the Seaway-Great Lakes system. The 2021 event was moved to the spring of 2022 because of the Covid-19 prevention rules in place. When the prospects for an in-person event then appeared uncertain, it was decided to wait until Nov. 15-16.

The key topics for the Hwy H2O conference, which is expected to attract 150 to 175 delegates, will be economic prospects and sustainability. “Sustainability is top of mind for everyone these days,” says the The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC). “Getting freight off the roads onto the ships is good for the environment and eases the pressure on the highways in both counties.”

Bruce Hodgson, SLSMC’s Director of Market Development, said the sessions during the conference will focus on how to boost Seaway-Great Lakes sustainability and how to educate Canadians and Americans on the environmental and economic benefits that sustainability will bring including protecting the health of the Lakes. Feedback from the attendees at past conferences shows they “are impressed with the educational component, from the economic outlook to the commodity modules that provide timely updates on market conditions for existing commodities that move through our system, to potential commodities that could move through it.” Topics included in past commodity updates have ranged from crude oil to wind turbines and included benchmarking best practices in our industry, our customers and other modes, other industries, he said.

“Attendees are able to gather a better understanding of competitive conditions impacting various commodities, as well as developments in other industries and modes. We’ve provided updates on the rail and truck sectors, and reviewed how to improve the delivery process to our customers. This includes discussions on the competitiveness of the Great Lakes system and how can we be more competitive.”

There have also been discussions on how the system’s stakeholders can work together, and how to work with other transport modes, to maximize the effectiveness of our system to users. The conference also enables attendees to network, which is “critical to develop the synergies for a successful supply chain. We learned the value of networking early on, and provided for quality networking time in our agenda. We have expanded the Hwy H2O networking opportunity by hosting a welcoming reception, along with other networking activities.”

The conference is now seen as “a key event for our stakeholders to meet with their customers and start their planning process to close off the navigation season, and start preparing for the upcoming navigation season,” he said.

The conference also enables companies to discuss how they can better service their customers and position for the future through more effective allocation of resources, he said. “Feedback from our attendees is that they always leave the conference with new ideas and ways to serve their customers better. They also appreciate learning about industry trends and economic trends, as well as learning what’s happening in other modes and the business opportunities that exist.”

The first Hwy H2O conference was held in 2005 and became an annual event until last year’s postponement. At first, the conference attracted mainly Canadian and American attendees but as international trade involving Great Lakes ports grew, delegates from other countries began attending.

Terence Bowles, President and CEO of SLSMC, will open the conference, and then Hodgson and Rebecca Yackley, Director of Trade & Economic Development with the U.S. Seaway Development Corp. will begin the process of delving into the economic outlook and sustainability issues. Among the topics to be discussed are practices that support long-term economic growth without negative social and environmental impacts.

Speakers will also talk about market trends that will impact traffic through the system and opportunities for future growth. Other sessions will examine social sustainability and how changes in the waterway operates will affect communities, businesses and workers. “Proactive managing and identifying business impacts on employees, workers in the value chain, customers, and local communities.”