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Montana businesses 'closely watching' cargo ship backlog at coastal ports

Some shipments 8 weeks out
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Posted at 8:11 AM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 10:11:37-04

BILLINGS - They’re calling it L.A. traffic jams in the shipping lanes of the Pacific Ocean, but the backlog of cargo ships waiting for a turn to dock and unload is impacting businesses in Billings.

On both the West and East coasts, ships are hanging out in the ocean for days, filling up a so-called cargo parking lot off receiving harbors.

Officials say a huge surge in imports is partly to blame, but also not enough truck drivers to unload shipments from Asia. And as always, part of it is a ripple effect of the pandemic.

“We look at it and go, oh, that's where our jackets are,” said Dianne Morgan with Basecamp in Billings. “We're for sure aware, and watching it.”

While Morgan says they’re doing a pretty good job of working with their reps and navigating the delays, some shipments are out as much as eight weeks.

Still, Morgan says as a buyer, she saw this coming.

“We’ve been watching it for about a year because so many of our orders are placed so far in advance,” she said.

And when you look around the store things are plenty full. Morgan said that’s because she buys every day and prepares ahead of time to try and navigate any shortages coming down since the pandemic began.

Still, there are a few items they’re watching closely.

“We’re just experiencing a few delays like insulated footwear. Some of that makes us a little nervous with the weather changes,” she said. “But overall, we're not anticipating not getting product before the holiday.”

Still, the delay is impacting businesses and industries everywhere. Stores selling furniture and electronics are seeing delays and industry experts are already cautioning about holiday items coming in late.

“I went to the girl that cuts my hair and said, ‘Are you, so are you seeing it?’ and she said yes because I can't get all of the supplies that I usually request,” said Morgan.

Even online retail giant Amazon is launching early Black Friday deals to the public. It’s a chance for buyers to get some of those coveted items while they are still in stock.

Morgan said luckily, Basecamp is a small business with great buying partners helping them adjust and keep shelves stocked.

Port officials said the congestion on the coasts could last a while because economic experts don’t expect things to get back to normal again until sometime next year.