At the beginning of September, the North American Rail Shippers (NARS) Conference hosted several panel discussions focused on current trends and realities of the rail industry. One such panel, comprised of a group of female leaders with “colorful backgrounds” and extensive experience in shipping and rail, focused on the future of the business. Currently, only 5 percent of people in the railroad industry are women.
Panel moderator, Kate Luce, president & CEO of the Mississippi Export Railroad, asked panelists to speak on creative solutions within their companies, the role of women and mentors in the field, sustainability and economic development.
It is no secret that economic development is the future of the rail business, Luce acknowledged, asking Anna Lea Moore, vice president for economic development for the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR), to share what she is seeing in North Carolina.
“I tell my team, you can come up with any idea, I want to hear about it. I want it to change the world, but if it doesn’t create jobs or increase freight rail traffic in North Carolina, that’s outside of our mission,” Moore said of NCRR’s economic development focus.
North Carolina is a high-growth state – consistently one of the best states in the country for business. Thousands of companies are looking to establish new locations in the South every year, meaning hundreds of those are rail users, she said. As further context for her remarks, since Jan. 1 of this year, the governor announced 16 manufacturing projects in North Carolina that will bring more than 3,000 new jobs and create more than $2.8 billion in economic impact. On average, we welcome 270 people a day to our state.
Considering this, the question for NCRR, Moore said, is: How can we differentiate ourselves? How can I make sure North Carolina secures our piece of the pie or a bigger piece?
NCRR has addressed this question in two ways so far:
Moore later addressed the future of sustainability within the business. Many of our rail clients have a desire to be totally self-sufficient or 100 percent renewable at some point, she shared. “Every foreign company I’ve talked to in the last six months – that’s their focus,” Moore noted.
Helping companies navigate their sustainability goals alongside their economic development decisions means “we have a lot of conversations with companies around ‘did you know.’ For example, did you know this many truckloads fit in this size rail car?” she said. Moore also noted that education is the key. It is incredibly important to educate customers about fuel efficiency, the length of time something takes to get across the country, etc., because they just don’t know, not being in the industry itself. It is also important to bring in key relationships at the beginning of conversations – like power companies – to add their perspective and expertise. Moore said NCRR is also researching the potential of recycled diesel fuel as a solution to sustainability concerns.
“You’re either growing or you’re shrinking,” shared co-panelist Barbara Wilson, president & CEO of RailUSA, LLC, speaking to creative solutions within her company and the industry at-large. “By changing things up and listening, I think that’s how we are going to move things forward, and that’s how we are going to get some of the excitement and passion back into the business.
“From an outsider, this is a complicated, old business, but it’s really so core to the fundamental economy,” she said.
Building strong relationships and striving for common goals with colleagues and customers is also important, stated co-panelist Stacey Lyons, U.S. manager of government and public affairs for Canadian National, regarding the industry’s future success.
Teri Zimmerman-Reynolds, managing director of Ray-Mont Logistics America, also served as a panelist and added that flexibility and adaptability in solving problems is also critical.
NCRR believes rail has a bright future and will continue to prioritize building relationships and educating our clients and the public on what we can offer and how we can transform economic development anywhere we are willing to do business.