By Keith Norbury
Having attended several Breakbulk Americas conferences in recent years, Kevin Kwateng is looking forward to returning to Houston in late September for the event, which was last held in 2019. “I plan on going, as long as there are not too many issues crossing the border,” said Mr. Kwanteng, director of heavy haul operations with Trois-Rivières-headquartered Groupe Bellemare. “Then I’ll be able to come and participate. I’m looking forward to – it’s been a while.”
Bellemare is one of several Canadian companies exhibiting at Breakbulk Americas, which takes place Sept. 28-30 at the George R. Brown Center. The conference was held annually for more than 30 years — not even hurricanes Katrina or Harvey could stop it. But then along came the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut down all large shows after March 2020.
In addition to Bellemare, Canadian exhibitors (with booth numbers in brackets) in halls D&E of the conference center include the following:
- Delta, B.C.-based Apex Specialized Rigging and Moving (M42);
- Montreal-based CM Labs Simulations (P14);
- Falcon International, of Pointe-Claire, Que. (C10);
- GRYB, of Victoriaville, Que. (B41);
- Highway H20, representing ports and users of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway (C01);
- Montreal-based Logistec (M18);
- Matcom, of Vaughan, Ont. (K15);
- Quebec Stevedoring Company Limited (C31);
- Regina, Sask.-based Richards Transport Ltd. (N17);
- Thor Global, of Mississauga, Ont. (N17);
- Toplift North America, of Stoney Creek, Ont. (Q31); and
- Calgary-based Totran Transportation Service Ltd. (C33).
Bellemare (booth K23) expects to send eight or nine representatives to the conference, Mr. Kwanteng said. They include personnel from the parent company’s new Houston-based Bellemare Specialized Logistics division created in 2020 after Groupe Bellemare acquired the Houston branch of Trinet. About the same time, Bellemare established its U.S. head office in Indianapolis. “We’re going to be more promoting the capabilities that we have in terms of servicing Canada, the US., and crossing the border as well,” Mr. Kwateng said. “With the team that we have down in Houston, plus the one in Indianapolis, we are able to show both countries. We want to let our customers know that now, whatever your project is, we can basically take care of it from A to Z.”
Opportunity to engage
Also looking forward to the conference is Aaron Gerber, vice president of sales with Pinnacle Logistics Solutions. “It’s a networking opportunity for us,” Mr. Gerber said. “We help our clients navigate buying transportation throughout the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.” Pinnacle will send a cohort to the show that will represent the company at the booth of Hwy H20, of which Pinnacle is a member.
“For us, it’s an opportunity to engage with buyers and potential buyers of transportation within the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes, and educate them on how one of the most robust trade networks in the entire world can serve them, and then put the pieces together in a practical way on their behalf,” Mr. Gerber said. Headquartered in Cambridge, Ont., Pinnacle has engaged in projects across Canada, including Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta. As shown on the company website, they include planning and logistics for transporting 43 complete wind towers to Fort MacLeod, Alta.; moving oversized silos, tanks and machinery from the port of Valleyfield to Kirkland, Que.; and delivering a 120,000 pound component across three municipalities and a major city in the Niagara region. “Those are a few snapshots of some projects that we’ve executed. But truthfully, they’d be a drop in the bucket, in terms of the full scope of work that we’ve executed both here in Canada and south of the border,” Mr. Gerber said.
Travel restriction doubts
Exactly how many Canadians will actually attend the conference still wasn’t clear as the press deadline approached. Ken Carey, manager of business development for The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, which runs the Canadian side of Hwy H20, said by email in late July that “while we have booked hotel rooms, many of our Canadian members have yet to confirm” their plans for the Houston.” At least one other exhibitor doubted the company would send anyone to the conference, citing lingering uncertainty about pandemic travel restrictions. Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority also won’t be sending anyone to the conference.
And a few Canadian exhibitors from previous iterations of Breakbulk Americas — such as the Ports of Vancouver, Halifax, and Prince Rupert — are conspicuously absent from the 2021 list. Organizers of the show, however, reported back in June that “enthusiasm and interest in the show is running high.” Notable new exhibitors include Airbus and Volvo Penta, which will join returnees such as DHL Global Forwarding, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, and Kuehne+Nagel.
“Breakbulk organizers are monitoring the global situation and will add remote coverage of the event if necessary for those unable to travel,” the June 4 article noted.
The conference venue has deployed what is called the Integrated Viral Protection System, or IVP. A biodefense filtration technology, IVP eliminates 99.999 percent of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, according to show organizers. Other precautions including advising show attendees to carry their own hand sanitizers; implementing a no hand-shake policy; making all gangways 10 feet wide; and following social distancing measures. The conference’s “Safe & Secure standards” make no mention of masks or vaccines. Nevertheless, the convention center website does recommend masking for all staff, suppliers and attendees “who are not fully vaccinated.” The center also noted that because of the “the ever-changing nature of the pandemic recovery,” the Houston mayor’s office reviews plans for organizers and clients booking the city-owned venue. “This practice will continue to evolve as vaccination levels increase and caseloads change.”
Abundance of sessions
Aside from the activities in the exhibition hall, the conference features an invitation-only executive summit, a welcome reception and other networking events, as well as educational sessions on the Breakbulk Main Stage. The latter include Carl Bentzel of Federal Maritime Commission discussing the evolving impact of Covid-19 on breakbulk and project cargo over the next year to 18 months; panel discussions on proposed infrastructure spending and the future of offshore wind power; and speakers from NASA, who will talk about the Space Launch System, or Artemis rocket, that aims to return humans to the moon.
For more information about the conference, visit americas.breakbulk.com.