Trucking down I-81, Wall Street in rear-view mirror

Heat wave follows the Maven into super-sunny Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., July 27, 2012 – Short posts again for the next week to ten days due to the fact that our excellent Great American Roadtrip is now underway. After a late departure from Reston, Virginia yesterday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Maven arrived in somewhat-too-sunny Knoxville, Tennessee (greenest state in the Land of the Free) yesterday evening and promptly settled in for a short summer’s nap.

We say “somewhat-too-sunny” because—hoping for a little respite from the DC area’s 100+ degree heatwave—we thought we might get a break at least as we traveled along the ridge of Virginia’s western mountains on an endless, truck-ridden, but picturesque stretch of I-81. Not a chance. Temperatures dropped a few degrees in the mountains. But it was still over ninety when we arrived in Knoxville around 8 p.m. EDT.

Aerial view of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.

Past Christianburg-Blacksburg (home of Virginia Tech), we’d actually never had occasion to drive this portion of the Interstate. It’s reputedly rural, and indeed, much of it is. But, surprising to the Maven at least, is the readily apparent success of Virginia’s “inland port” concept.

Conceived a good number of years ago, Virginia came up with this ingenious idea as a way of encouraging business and shipping inland of its main ocean cargo ports in the massive Newport News-Hampton-Norfolk-Virginia Beach area. Set up in the vicinity of Front Royal, Virginia near the intersection of busy I-66/I-81, the idea was to ship, via truck or rail, large volumes of coastal cargo to the inland port for transshipment elsewhere in the U.S. via rail or truck—a bit like FedEx’s simple but brilliant idea of bringing all air shipments overnight to Memphis, shuffling them to route-specific aircraft, and then hustling them out across the U.S. for next day delivery.

Or, as Virginia’s inland port PR site explains: “Just west of Washington, D.C., in Warren County, VA, is the Virginia Inland Port.  Cargo from the other three state-owned terminals travels to VIP five days a week, bringing the Port of Virginia 220 miles closer to the U.S. Market, and 75 international shipping lines.  The facility also contains 17,820 of on-site rail serviced by Norfolk Southern.  It is within 1 mile from I-66 and within 5 miles of I-81.” An added bonus for international cargo: An added bonus: the inland port is also a designated U.S. Customs port of entry.

Goods from Virginia’s inland port aren’t shipped on a next-day basis, of course. But its existence gives shippers the perfect opportunity to pick up a lot of cargo in a central location for transshipment elsewhere. Handy idea.

As an apparent consequence of the inland port and its activities, I-81—already truck-heavy anyway as an inland alternative to perpetually clogged I-95 which runs along the coast and through virtually all of the East Coast’s congested urban areas—there are literally dozens of facilities that cater to the care, feeding, manufacturing, and rehab of trucks, both trailers and cabs. They pop up from time to time along I-81, surprising, massive facilities that seem to erupt from the countryside around the interstate.

All these facilities are bringing jobs to this once-neglected part of rural Virginia which snakes, geographically, underneath West Virginia and Tennessee ending in a point surprisingly far west.

The whole trucking phenomenon, which we could easily see as we traveled south on I-81, demonstrates at least in part why right-to-work Virginia has remained successful in keeping its unemployment rate surprisingly low in a difficult economic environment. (The other part, of course, is the existence of northern Virginia’s DC suburbs, which benefit by their proximity to the bloated Federal government.)

In any event, the long trip didn’t give us much of a chance to comment on Knoxville in today’s post, but we’ll catch up on it tomorrow after traveling west on I-40 to our next stop, Little Rock, Arkansas. That said, Knoxville, which lies in close proximity to Davy Crockett country, Dollywood, and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, is also home to a major university, and, as we mentioned yesterday, Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, who teaches law at the university while supporting the best libertarian blog aggregating site ever.

Regarding the market: as we indicated yesterday, we departed as a big rally was underway, encouraged by more nice comments from the Eurozone. Like most of these nice comments, though, we’re convinced not much will come out of them as the Euro-elites continue to kick the can down the road, waiting for a 2008-style catastrophe, no doubt, before making the unpopular decisions they simply have to make.

So look for some rally follow-through this morning, maybe even an up-close. Futures seem to indicate just that, but then again, people tend to bail on Friday afternoons, lest someone, somewhere surprise them with terrible news over the weekend when they can’t trade on it.

We’ll be back on Monday in abbreviated fashion. Meanwhile, we’ll probably also be posting our road-trip adventures in our other columns. Have a good weekend yourselves, and stay cool.

Disclaimer: The author of this column maintains several active trading and investment portfolios and owns residential and investment real estate.

Positions mentioned above describe this author’s own investment decisions and should not be construed as either buy or sell recommendations. The current market is highly treacherous and all investors travel at their own risk, so caution should be exercised at all times.

Illustrations, charts, commentary, and analysis are only the author’s view of current or historical market activity and don’t constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any security or contract. Views, indications, and analysis aren’t necessarily predictive of any future market or government action. Rather they indicate the author’s opinion as to a range of possibilities that may occur going forward.

References to other reporters, analysts, pundits, or commentators are illustrative only and do not necessarily represent an endorsement of such individuals’ points of view. If specific investment vehicles are mentioned in any article under this column heading, the author will always fully disclose any active or contemplated investments in said vehicles.

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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