Great Lakes Shipping and Michigan’s Natural Resources with Rust Belt Kid
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In this episode of Everything is Logistics, Blythe speaks with Jack Zwart, the shipping manager at GatorBar, a manufacturer of composite rebar in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He shares information on the history and importance of the Rust Belt, the role of the Great Lakes in raw material shipping, and the value of building personal relationships with carriers. Jack also explains how he stumbled into his manufacturing role, the unique transportation challenges faced by rural Midwest shippers, and insights into the future of American manufacturing.




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Show Transcript

See full episode transcriptTranscript is autogenerated by AI

Jack Zwart: 0:05

And rebar for a hundred years was made the same way. It was a piece of steel with little grooves in it to hold it in the concrete. And GatorB ar is different. It's a composite material, so it's made with like new age chemistry stronger fibers. It looks nothing like standard rebar, it feels nothing like standard rebar, but it's a modern iteration right, and it's taking place here in the Midwest.

Blythe Brumleve: 0:37

Welcome into another episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight. We are proudly presented by SPI Logistics and I am your host, Blythe Brumleve. We've got another great episode for you today and we are talking to the shipping manager at Gator Bar. His name is Jack Zwart. Hopefully I said that name right I think I did, because we just talked about it five seconds ago, but hopefully that is still the correct pronunciation. But we're going to be talking from the shipper point of view for this episode. This is always a really popular one with our audience because brokers and carriers are always looking for ways to work more efficiently probably more on the carrier side, with shippers all across the country brokers too, of course, but the carriers are the ones that are probably going to be the bigger focus in this episode. So, Jack, welcome into the show.

Jack Zwart: 1:25

Yeah, thanks for having me. Honor to be here.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:32

Awesome, perfect. This is going to be such a fun discussion because I just told you before we started hitting record that I listened to your interview on Trucking for Millennials with those guys over there Great bunch of guys that have been hosting a podcast for years now and they're hosting conversations that need to be had and so after listening to that, I am pumped and ready to go for this one. So, for folks who maybe didn't listen to that episode or aren't familiar with your background, can you give us a little bit of insight of your career history?

Jack Zwart: 2:01

Yeah, as it relates to what we're going to talk about today, we'll. We'll trim it down a little bit For the last. I'm in my fourth year now third or fourth year at a manufacturing company called Gator Bar. We operate in the upper peninsula of Michigan, so a pretty rural area here. No-transcript to loading, routing, everything like that runs through me and that's basically what I do on my day-to-day.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:55

And then you have a pretty strong Twitter presence, and one of the things in your bio that caught me off, or that caught my attention, is you call yourself a Midwest supremacist, and so I imagine that has a lot to do with where you're located in the country and the businesses that you support. So what is, I guess, sort of the meaning behind the Midwest supremacist, because you're not the only Michigan person that I've met that is very, very quick to pull out their hand and show you exactly where they're from.

Jack Zwart: 3:23

On the state, yeah, yeah, it's beautiful country up here and I grew up in the more traditional Rust Belt. So I grew up in Illinois between Chicago and Rockford, two great Rust Belt cities, so I've split my time in two different areas of the Midwest. I love them both for different reasons, and there's a lot of things that we have in the Midwest that are lacking in other parts of the country, specifically industry and community that we tend to think of comes from days of old, I think, and there's a lot of things that are still here today with us and that we should be proud of and that we should take more pride in. So I try and highlight those things, highlight industry, highlight small towns, and so, because those things are prominent in the Midwest, I call myself a Midwest supremacist. I really enjoy it and wish everywhere could be like here.

Blythe Brumleve: 4:37

I think for a lot of folks who maybe didn't grow up in the Midwest or maybe, you know, are of a certain age, they're not exactly familiar of or aware of the historical significance of the you know, just the prowess of, you know American manufacturing, especially decades ago, for folks who may not be aware of the changes or how that's evolved, can you kind of break down and for for people who don't know, what is the Rust Belt and what is sort of the state of it today?

Jack Zwart: 5:18

Um, okay, yeah, definitely so I you'll probably get different interpretations, but, um, I would consider the Rust Belt the heavy industry backbone of the United States that lays between, let's say, pittsburgh to Chicago, kind of in that east to west band and in that geographic band historically band, historically, you had a lot of heavy industry, um, for, and I guess it would start up in the iron range of minnesota, that iron ore comes down into the rust belt, um, into places like, uh, detroit, detroit and Gary and Buffalo, and to me you know, it starts on the Great Lakes and then disseminates from there. So you can go probably all the way back into the late 19th century and and find that basically, as soon as people started coming to the Midwest en masse as the country moved west, industry followed. And I would argue that there's geographical advantages that the Midwest has with the Great Lakes, with the Mississippi River, that it allowed industry to become more prominent there. And so, as we get into things like World War I, world War II and post-World War II, automobiles, mining planes, tanks, et cetera, so much of it came from the rust belt and and then, after the war, you see that industry stay and kind of evolve into other things. I already mentioned automobiles, uh, but lakers like, uh, you know people that listen to this podcast are probably familiar with Great Lakes Lake shipping, the ships being called Lakers. Actually, the first one was built in Detroit, right and so you see it evolve into consumer electronics and all kinds of different categories.

Jack Zwart: 7:39

It would be I don't know if you put me under pressure right now if I can name them all right, but heavy industry machinery was predominantly manufactured here in the Rust Belt, and you know, as time has went on, we've lost a lot of it. But as you look, if you look at America as a whole, I think there's still a ton of great things here, especially here. There's still a ton of great things here, especially here, and are things as good as they used to be? No, definitely not. But is there still a lot to be proud of? Absolutely. And is the majority of heavy industry in America still reside here? I would also say yes, and so those are things that I like to emphasize with people, and I hope, give people hope and aspiration or something to be, you know, something to be proud of, I guess.

Blythe Brumleve: 8:33

Well, I imagine, because what I have heard, you know, just throughout the years, is like the areas like West Virginia or something like the coal mining towns, like things like that, where it's just all of that, I guess, processing and manufacturing has been pretty much outsourced to other countries, and so there is a movement, I think, of trying to bring manufacturing back. Do you see that evolving into what I've heard it called is like a manufacturing 2.0, where they're starting to bring some of those jobs back but in a different way than what it was before? Are you familiar with any of that? You know sort of, I guess, the evolution of modern manufacturing. I imagine you are in with your respective field.

Jack Zwart: 9:18

Yeah, yeah, I think. I actually think Gator Bar is kind of a good example. Right Like so Gator Bar is is just rebar. Right Like so, GatorB ar is just rebar. It's just concrete reinforcement that goes in everything from roads to bridges, to houses, office buildings, you know. And rebar for a hundred years was made the same way. It was a piece of steel with little grooves in it to hold it in the concrete. And GatorB ar is different. It's a composite material, so it's made with like new age chemistry, um, stronger fibers. It looks nothing like standard rebar, it feels nothing like standard rebar, but it's a modern iteration, right, and it's taking place here in the Midwest, um. So, yeah, you're right, this is I'm glad you brought this up right, and it's taking place here in the Midwest. So, yeah, you're right, this is I'm glad you brought this up right.

Jack Zwart: 10:09

There's a lot of talk about reshoring right now, and I don't want to pretend to be a policy expert or anything like that, but I think, as more young people might be interested in not going the traditional college route, that maybe they don't want to take on the debt, or or they want to work with their hands for some reason and they don't want to, you know, have an office job. I think the Midwest is a great opportunity, offers a great opportunity for these people, because you have a ton of natural resources, you know, you have the Great Lakes, you have the Mississippi, you have a ton of rail hubs and there's a lot of what I talked about. I've talked about this with Lombard before. Right, lombard's dad was like an old school manufacturing guy on the East Coast and if you're in the right place in the right towns and you know where to look and you open yourself up and ask around, there's still a lot of these guys around with expertise from the first go round, right, like they're older now, right, but you still have the opportunity to garner a lot of information from them. To garner a lot of information from them.

Jack Zwart: 11:24

And there was maybe a 40 year gap, let's call it, since we lost a lot of industry, but if you can find the right people, there's still a lot of knowledge here in the Rust Belt, because that's where most of the manufacturing was, and so, yeah, I do think that there is a lot of opportunity, and maybe I kind of forgot what your initial question was there, but like new age manufacturing. So, yeah, I mean, I think we're a good example and I don't want to take credit for that. There's 40 guys at our shop and a lot of guys that started long before I got there there. But um, it takes. You know, it's just different than um, it's different than going to business school. It's it's different than getting a degree in environmental science or whatever it's. It's just a different route that as a society we have haven't really explored in the last 40 years. Right, we kind of just like let it hang for 40 years, didn't really do much with it, and so, yeah, I think we'll see a lot more of what you're talking about.

Blythe Brumleve: 12:34

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Blythe Brumleve: 13:14

Hit the freight agent link in our show notes to listen to these conversations or, if you're ready to make the jump, visit spi3plcom. That's SPI3PLcom, I guess, with a good follow-up for that statement, especially for young people. What did that process look like to decide you're going to become a manufacturer? Were you in on the inside when this process started? How did you just wake up one day and you're like I think I'm going to manufacture Rebarb.

Jack Zwart: 13:45

No, no, first of all, I wasn't around at the beginning of the company. I want to make that clear. But basically, basically I got into it by luck, right, and and there'll be hundreds of people after me that get into it by luck and hopefully, you know, hopefully they have as good of a time as I have had. I stumbled into it by luck and hopefully, you know, hopefully they have as good of a time as I have had. I stumbled into it, right, um, but I was. I actually got a forestry degree, so I think, uh, maybe we'll talk about this at some point, right, but, um, there's a lot of timber in our area and a lot of mining. There's still a lot of raw goods that get moved around in the upper Midwest, and that's what I was doing. I was in that field.

Jack Zwart: 14:32

I wasn't quite making what I wanted to make and I quit my job right about the time COVID started and I was kind of just in a panic and it was the early days of COVID when people were closed and whatnot, and so the only job I could find at the time was a uh, uh, a management position at Walmart. So I was operating the uh, like the back room of Walmart, like the loading docks basically, and so that's how I got into shipping is just by luck, right, I was just I needed a job. Covid had struck and I I took a job at the local Walmart managing a crew the second shift at the loading dock and I knew I didn't want to stay there for long, but it gave me some good experience and for for, it's like embarrassing as a grown man to say you worked at Walmart, right, but it's just like it's just what we had to do at the time and actually, like I was also telling this to Lombard is like it's a little bit embarrassing to say but one, they pay good. And two, you know, they're a big entity, they're a well-oiled machine. So I learned a lot about a well, a functional, you know, a functional business and a functional shipping department, right.

Jack Zwart: 16:00

So I was there for a few months and just, you know, looking for something else, and I have some family at GatorB ar and they were saying, hey, you know, we're growing and we need someone to. We're moving more than, like you know, they started to get multiple trucks a week. That was like a big deal to them, right, they were a one truck a week company and they could just handle it with a phone call. And then it started to grow and it became its own thing. They needed somebody else. So then I you know, then that was back in 2020 or 2021, I came over to Gator Bar and it was just pure luck, right, but I've learned a lot since I've got there. I got a little bit into the there. I got a little bit into the production side, a little bit into the purchasing side and it's, you know, mainly um handle the, the shipping component I guess what?

Blythe Brumleve: 16:53

what does that process look like? Are you, are you with as a manufacturer? Are you sourcing the goods um? Are you making them on site? Uh, what does that I guess that process look like?

Jack Zwart: 17:04

So yeah, great question. Our product is actually pretty simple. There's three raw ingredients. One thing we market to our customers is that we're 100% American made, so even our ingredients or components are American sourced. One of those comes in via liquid tanker. I posted a photo of one of those unloading today at our facility, if anyone wants to check that out. One of them comes in via dry van and the other one is a local product, is a local product that comes in drums.

Jack Zwart: 17:47

So basically I'm just doing the purchasing of those products, the production planning. So you know you have, you have x million number of feet on order for next month, which means you know we need this million feet per week, and so I order that much. When the you know when the material gets to our facility, we're offloading it, we make the product and then we have. You know we're filling the orders that we have on the outbound bound side. Then basically what's happening is um, we, we ship exclusively flatbed, unless there's a custom fabrication to be made, but for 97 percent of our stuff I would say we're shipping flatbed, right? So rebar is standardized to 20 feet long and so we'll. We'll make two piles to take up 40 feet of flatbed deck and um, I'm using all local.

Jack Zwart: 18:50

Local in our context is probably a pretty big range, but all local carriers, you know, from green bay to duluth, uh, flatbed carriers that's kind of the radius we draw and so I've gotten pretty familiar with the um lake superior flatbed guys. I know most of them, it seems like, and, uh, you know we, anywhere from a one truck outfit to a hundred truck outfit we're we're using and we dial those guys up. I, I handle still everything with phone calls and emails. It's pretty rudimentary. I guess. If they you've got brokers that listen to this, they've probably got some fancy CRPs or what have you. But we do everything the old-fashioned way. It seems like they show up on time, we load them at our facility and then they deliver to basically everywhere. I mean we've got all 50 states under our belt right now and we did our first actually I should take that back. We did our second international shipment late last year and I'm working with Ross Kennedy right now on our third. So we got a few international shipments on the docket now.

Blythe Brumleve: 20:02

And for folks who are watching. We just showed your website, which is incredible, by the way. It's very rare to find. I think in our industry you know just all of supply chain is very rare to find like a really standout website, but that website kicks ass.

Jack Zwart: 20:17

So I'll put a lot of money for it, so that's good.

Blythe Brumleve: 20:21

It's definitely it great photography too. So if you haven't visited the site and you're a website nerd, uh, like me uh, go visit it, because it really is, uh, very well done now. Now you know, as you were talking, I was going to ask these questions a little bit later on, but since you already brought it up, um, I would love to talk about how you work with carriers. You you mentioned that it was one truck a week. Now it's a couple and growing. One thing that really stood out to me when I was listening to you on Trucking for Millennials is that you were very passionate about carriers being their own marketing and walking into an office to do business with a shipper. Instead of sending cold emails, instead of sending you know cold or making cold calls, you do business still to this day, I believe with a carrier who just walked in and introduced himself. Is that right?

Jack Zwart: 21:16

Yeah, that's correct.

Jack Zwart: 21:17

Yeah, so I am pretty adamant about that. I have a lot of respect for people that do that. I think for me probably a little bit more, just because, like I just told you, you know, we're sourcing carriers from a pretty big circle because we are remote, so I don't, I don't have a ton of options. So anyone that walks in the door has my ear right, like I don't have that many options and and if you take the time to walk in my door, I'm going to give you some business. Now you have to still be a good carrier. But yeah, it did happen two times and I still use both of those carriers.

Jack Zwart: 22:04

I have a kind of a short list of of companies that I that I use, and I think all of them were either recommended to me by another driver or another carrier, or they, like one of the carriers that I use, frequently delivered. We were putting up a new building and they delivered steel to our facility and the you know beautiful truck driver was courteous driver was on time, and at that that moment in time I needed another carrier and so I just extended the invitation for hey, have your boss call me. And he did and and we've. We use them like a lot, a lot. So, um, I do think that, whether it's by recommendation or by walking in the door uh it is it goes a long ways.

Jack Zwart: 22:56

And I don't know how. You know how the audience will feel about this, but like I probably take five to 10 phone calls a day like cold calls from brokers and anyone that's just shows up in person. You know, like I'm just ecstatic to talk to somebody that is is personable, is real. You know, when you call me and say I have assets in your area, I kind of doubt it. So when I actually see someone with assets in my area, I'm like, all right, let's go. Like this is good. You know, I don't know, I think it goes a long way. It might be different in different markets, right, but for rural shippers it's meaningful on a personal level, but also on a business level, right, it's advantageous for both of us.

Blythe Brumleve: 23:49

So when you mentioned that, the limited amount of carriers within your region, so you're really just finding them now by just either referral or they just walk into your office, and I think that that is incredible because it's one of those things that just it's so simple and hardly anyone does it, and I've told Adam Wingfield, which he's an advocate for small carriers, that he's on all over social media, but he had this great tip not too long ago that just really stood out to me of just having carriers and brokers to an extent to go to your local networking meetups, your better business bureaus, you know things like that, those, those different groups that you can go and meet shippers, business owners, introduce yourself, shake their, shake their hand and make a connection. That way, instead of trying to send a thousand cold emails in a day and hope that someone opens it, I would imagine. How successful do you think the cold calls or the cold emails are for you? Maybe hardly ever, or they catch you at the right time. Does any of that work on you?

Jack Zwart: 25:01

I don't, um, no, I, I actually. It does the opposite. So so if I'm, if, if I'm being very, you know, real and blunt, like I have, no, I have no interests whatsoever. And and if you call me, especially after I asked to be put on a do not call list, right, it does the opposite thing. It pushes you away.

Jack Zwart: 25:27

And that's a good example is like there's another business in town here that's bigger than us and more trucks than us, and I actually I was like you know, okay, I dialed their logistics man in here. I was like, hey, you know who are you guys using, let's try and team up. And if he gets to the first facility, then he's not that far from our facility and up here, that's pretty good, right, you know, if you're only 40 minutes away, like that's really good. And so I had done a little bit of exploring. He said, you know, here's a few people.

Jack Zwart: 26:07

And and then, um, I had made some phone calls, maybe even given away a load or two, and then, uh, one of the companies was just nonstop trying to uh, you know, they're, they're just non-stop, a lot of brokers are non-stop. And and I like asked like, all right, you know, I, I didn't want to use you the first go around. I don't want to use you now, I think I think brokers can overdo it and maybe they don't realize that sometime. I, like I told you earlier, I probably get five to 10 calls a day and at least 10 emails a day, so we're just. I think shipping managers are just immune to that kind of stuff At least I am. I shouldn't speak for other people, but you got to do something different, you know.

Blythe Brumleve: 26:54

Well, it's funny because I've been at a couple of different conferences where I know that shippers are there and what they'll do is they either just show up to their panel that they're speaking at or whatever, and then they just leave and they don't interact at the conference at all. But then they're turning their badge around or they're hiding their badge because they don't want to be harassed and that's their sort of networking time that they would just want to have genuine conversations and not just be pitched nonstop. So I imagine that has to get exhausting all of the time. And so the thing that is a little bit more hard work of just showing up and introducing yourself. That sounds like it's a much better use of your time versus spending a lot of money on marketing software and a lot of these different sales tools and call recording tools. Just go talk to people in real life, make introductions, and that seems like it works well for you.

Jack Zwart: 27:51

Yeah yeah, I've only had two guys do it in four years and they both got loads out of it, so it seems like it would be a good use of someone's time.

Blythe Brumleve: 28:01

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Blythe Brumleve: 28:48

Before we started recording, I told you that I had this tweet saved of yours for gosh close to a year now, because you originally sent it out on April 10th of last year and it was talking about Great Lakes shipping and you said a phrase earlier that your audience might be aware of. This phrase called Lakers. When you said Lakers, I'm immediately thinking of the basketball team in the opposite coast, but this tweet I have had saved because I was like I got to get this guy on the show because I never knew that there was such a massive. I'm based in Florida, so I spent some time up in Michigan, but never in the UP and the Upper Peninsula. For folks who don't know what UP is, it took me a long time to remember what that was too.

Blythe Brumleve: 29:35

But Michigan, I feel like, has its own. It's almost like Texas, where it's their own, like little country up there, and you know very people that are very proud to be from there and, um, they're, they're going to let you know um, very similar to to folks in Texas. Um, but this thread and I'll link to it in the show notes for folks who are just listening Um, but you basically go through about how you know you say it's rather quiet, quiet but massively important when it comes to Great Lakes shipping. So you kind of can you kind of break down, I guess, the an overview of you know sort of the natural resources in that area and then how they're shipped out and how the Great Lakes is used yeah, absolutely.

Jack Zwart: 30:16

Um, I'm very far from an expert on this topic, but I'm a fan of this topic, so I'll talk about the little bit that. I know you did a really cool thing when you asked me to be on here and that's like what are what's? You asked me in a little questionnaire, like what's some of the things that you want to talk about, and one of them that I think I wrote down was that the upper Great Lakes in particular still is a very raw materials based economy, so iron ore, limestone, timber, those kinds of items. For anyone that's not familiar with Lakers, lakers are basically aggregate hauling ships, so they're not like a container ship. You know the Baltimore incident just happened. The Ever Given thing happened a few years ago and I think a lot of people think big ships. They automatically see a stack of containers on there and that's not what Lakers are on there and that's not what lakers are. Lakers basically have these big carved out bellies and they get. These big carved out bellies get filled up with, uh, taconite, which is where iron ore is derived.

Jack Zwart: 31:32

Limestone, asphalt, salt, you know even salt, uh, road salt, and there's a. There's a whole smattering of like geological minerals that that I think people don't even, and I didn't even recognize. You know for the first many, many years of my life what these things do. And so when we look at plastics and metals and and even things like paper, most of these materials have fillers in them that are doing something right. Or you can look at limestone for roads um, there's, there's just like everything in your life starts somewhere on the earth, and so many of these things start in Minnesota or Michigan and because they're rural, we just don't really think about them. And so, like you had the ships up on the screen right, there's a huge deposit of iron. The main one in the US comes from Northern Minnesota. It gets referred to as the iron range. There's a lot of lime and gypsum and other minerals like that that come out of you know, if I do the hand thing for you you know they come out of up here, northern Michigan, and these are where most of our goods start.

Jack Zwart: 33:00

And I don't, and we just, we're just, we literally don't see them right, because they're on the, they're in the mine, they're in the ground and then they're on the lake and and everyday people don't, everyday people see semis right, they might even see oil wells or or whatever. But we don't. We literally don't see these things, most people so we're kind of oblivious to them. And and yet you have these huge rural economies based on them.

Jack Zwart: 33:30

I'm not sure if it was in there or not, but about an hour, hour and a half away from me, here we have the only nickel mine in the United States, nickel mine in the united states. So things that we need, even for high-end consumer electronics circuit boards, they start here and and they now. Nickel doesn't go on these ships, but most aggregates do. And, uh, these ships are very, very large, very large, and if you've ever had the, you know the pleasure of being in Green Bay or Detroit or Toledo, you might get to see one that they draw a lot of fanfare. There's like a whole cult following of people that say, oh, I spotted this ship today.

Blythe Brumleve: 34:18

Or no way.

Jack Zwart: 34:20

I spotted that ship today. Yeah, it has like kind of like a cult-like following and um, and so much of it starts on Superior, on Lake Michigan. Um and uh, I just think it's a forgotten part of the economy, maybe is the best way to say it.

Blythe Brumleve: 34:38

So a couple questions as you were talking. Why is it nickel put on a ship or a Laker?

Jack Zwart: 34:45

Um, so I I assume I don't know much about it, but I worked out there, um, in that area, by the nickel mine for one summer and, uh, it's funny that you asked this this is one of my uh, one of my first uh, popular things I talked about online. Um, and nickel is the mine in marquette, is in marquette, michigan, and um, it's, it's quite interesting. So there's a lot of iron, there's some iron mines in Marquette as well, and everything historically was done by rail. But where the nickel mine was was geographically tough to get rail to. All the rail lines had been laid 100 years ago, had been laid 100 years ago, and so there was a proposed new highway actually to get the nickel from the mine to the processing plant, but it went through an environmentally sensitive area. Right, they could have done it, but there was some public pushback.

Jack Zwart: 36:00

So now marquette tour uh, marquette michigan is kind of a tourist town, but if you're ever there and you spend like more than five minutes there, you'll see these big b-train semi-trucks hauling ore right through town. So they basically what they did, instead of running it through the environmentally sensitive area, was they ended up running it back through town and then out of town. Um, so all day, every day, if you're in Marquette, michigan, you'll see these ore trucks. Uh, they run B trains. If you know your, your audience may be familiar with the B train. Maybe not, um, but they're the double. You know, they're the double trailers and they're running, or right through town in marquette, so that I don't know. I think that's, that's pretty. Uh, I think it's pretty cool. Um, why it doesn't go on a laker. I couldn't say it's right by the lake. It seems like it should be able to, but I'm I'm guessing it has something to do with processing probably you know cleaning the, the ship.

Blythe Brumleve: 37:01

You know before or after I'm sure there's some kind of like regulations around that what, what happens after it gets loaded up onto a ship, because I, you know, my geography is right like where, where does it go after that?

Jack Zwart: 37:17

so, uh, I'm assuming you're talking about other things now, like iron or yeah, like any kind of shipment.

Blythe Brumleve: 37:23

So you mentioned, you showed the top of your hand, I guess, where a lot of these mines are located. If they're loaded up on a ship, where are they going after that? Are they going to, I don't know, maybe like further south, closer to Detroit, and then being distributed from there? What does, I guess, does that process look like? Do you know?

Jack Zwart: 37:44

Yeah, so I believe most of the traffic out of Duluth is going to be iron and out of northern Michigan is going to be like lime or gypsum. I should see if I can find it. Someone had made a great heat map of where all these ships go out of Duluth and predominantly you see them go to the big Rust Belt processing towns. So they will leave Duluth, they will go through the Sioux Lock and they will end up in Gary, indiana, detroit, michigan, pittsburgh, pennsylvania. These big steel towns right Is where it's. We're converting now from iron ore to to steel, so I'll see if I can find that.

Jack Zwart: 38:40

It's like a super cool map.

Blythe Brumleve: 38:43

Well, I didn't find a map, but I did find the first result of the Duluth shipping canal. Is that the same area?

Jack Zwart: 38:50

Yeah, Duluth Harbor is where most of these ships are coming from.

Blythe Brumleve: 38:54

Yeah, right off of Lake Superior. So, yeah, you can see those big lakers and I can now see why, and it's tough to describe it for the folks who are listening. So, um, check you on youtube in order to watch the video version of this show. But, yeah, you're, you're not lying, that, that's definitely. It almost looks like big flat beds. But the ship version, um, that's I get.

Jack Zwart: 39:16

I think that's the best yeah, right, but the flat, the flat that's always empty because the aggregate is below right.

Blythe Brumleve: 39:22

The aggregate is in the belly.

Jack Zwart: 39:24

So there's basically these giant doors that open up and through either big buckets that they have on shore or like elevators, like belt elevators they'll empty these ships' bellies.

Blythe Brumleve: 39:39

That's super cool to know. So what are their cool? I guess facts or stuff that the common American should know about Great Lakes shipping.

Jack Zwart: 39:51

One thing we haven't talked too much about. I spent my early years as a forester. There's still a lot of wood products Now, a lot of wood products now. The south, uh, like the southeast has most of the dimensional lumber in this country. So if you go buy a two by four from home depot, you're probably buying wood that was grown in the american south. But when you start looking at things like cabinetry flooring, doors, these would be considered hardwood species, a little bit more high dollar stuff. There's a really good chance that that wood came from the Great Lakes region.

Jack Zwart: 40:33

So much of our local economy, specifically here where I am, is hardwood based. We have quite a few mills in town and and that wood ends up in a lot of furniture and flooring. Um, one of the mills here does exclusively flooring and then some of them just cut I don't know the proper term here, but maybe just like a, like a base stock that can be converted then into furniture. So these are species like maple birch that are a little bit more high dollar, and that dictates a lot of our local economy. So most of the flatbed guys that I interact with on a day-to-day basis spend a good portion of their time hauling finished lumber out of these mills.

Jack Zwart: 41:27

We here in Michigan. One kind of cool thing is that Michigan as a state recognized this and permitted heavy loads within the state. So the log trucks coming out of the woods, um, oh man I I'm not going to say the number, but it's, it's a they're permitted for a weight much higher than like if you were to cross state lines and go into wisconsin, right, um, and so that's that's kind of cool that the state recognized that and did that. They also permitted b trains, um, so almost all the wood in michigan is hauled out, and the double trailer configuration and, uh, the, the mills employ a lot, a lot of our local, uh, people here, and so that's a big Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan very dependent on logging and consequently the transportation is wood heavy, both in log form and in finished lumber.

Blythe Brumleve: 42:36

Did you work in or work near or around the shipping, I guess, manager? Were you serving as, like, a shipping manager when you worked in forestry?

Jack Zwart: 42:46

No, not really at all. So I was. I had a little experience with log truck drivers, but we were doing private consulting. So if a landowner wanted their let's say they had 40 acres and they wanted that harvested, they could get in contact with us and we would set up the logging road into the job site. We would set up where they can and can't cut and we would kind of handle the payment processing, because really the only payment happens at the mill and the mill is really only paying the guy that brings the logs there. So then everyone else in that process has to be kind of paid backwards in reverse, if you will, right? So Michigan also has a private forestry tax credit program. It's called the Commercial Forest Program. So they want to encourage, encourage logging and keep these mills open. So landowners can enroll in in this tax program, I guess, if you will. And in order to do that you have to have a management plan put together by a professional forester. So we would also write management plans for landowners.

Blythe Brumleve: 44:05

That's super. I guess it just never really crossed my mind. I'm in Jacksonville, florida, so it's North Florida, and so we have a lot of land clearing. That's going on. And I was going to be building on some property and so we were clearing it by hand. It was ripping down the vines and things it just overgrown. But we were doing all of that in preparation for a logging or not a logging company, but just like a tree service company to come in and cut down all of the trees so we could start building. But then they came out and they said, okay, well, you have a bunch of pine trees. It's not really worth our time, so we're not going to do it for you.

Jack Zwart: 44:44

What were they hoping you had, like Cypress or something.

Blythe Brumleve: 44:46

Or maybe like the big Spanish oaks. It was, it was a while ago, but they pretty much were like no, you gotta, that's not something we're going to help you with. It's just a bunch of like the really skinny, like pine trees, and they were everywhere. We ended up just selling the property and not doing anything with it and just let somebody else you know, take it over. But I remember that being like an interesting thing, like you can't do anything with this, like what do you mean? There's all these trees.

Jack Zwart: 45:15

It's a hundred of them. Yeah, yeah, there's a. There's definitely some, especially as, like you're, you're in a probably a pretty relatively large timber market in the southeast. Um, as mills get big, they don't want to mess around with with little landowners and little deliveries and stuff like that. They want a very consistent, consistent feed of certain size, certain quantity logs. So so here in Michigan I think that's part of the reason they put the tax program in place was you out West, you have a lot of federally owned land, right, like I think, if you know, if you look at a map of the US and you look out West, the feds are the big landowner.

Jack Zwart: 45:58

And if you look down South, how they kind of alleviate that problem is there's these industrial timber companies and a lot of people will sign a lease with that timber company to say, hey, in 40 years I'm going to plant, or today I'm going to plant these logs and in 40 years you can come get them. And up here there's kind of a smattering right. There's federal land ownership, there's a lot of private land ownership and there's some industrial ownership. So the tax program, I think, is a way to maintain the flow of timber off these private lands to these mills as a guarantee right. You're incentivizing the landowners to cut.

Blythe Brumleve: 46:41

That's probably why we were told no, they didn't have time for us. Now a couple more questions here. I guess sort of lastly kind of rounding out this conversation. You know sort of lastly kind of you know rounding out this conversation with your role at at Gator Bar, with you know the, the things that you're passionate about, um, where you, where do you kind of hope to see, you know, the future of American manufacturing? Um, if folks are interested in even starting up a manufacturing business or working for one and just getting more involved, what kind of advice would you give to?

Jack Zwart: 47:14

them. First and foremost, I would say go learn somewhere. I think manufacturing, machining, any of the trades really are probably pretty foreign to young people. I know they were to me and I mean the first thing you got to do is walk on a door somewhere and start learning Even. You see programs like apprenticeships for plumbers and electricians. Nothing like that really exists in manufacturing because everything varies so much. Right, there's no standardization, but some experience.

Jack Zwart: 47:54

And this is a great question. I'm really happy you asked it, because a lot of people ask me and I don't necessarily have a good answer yet. But one thing I can say is is that anywhere you go in America it can be Rust Belt or Midwest or not, right, there's typically these small manufacturing machine shops right, and they're seemingly always looking for guys, they're seemingly always busy and there's like a few fundamental. You know a lathe, a drill press, you know these kinds of things that you can walk almost anywhere in America, probably tomorrow, and get a job, and the owner is going to say, hey, he's going to stick you on this lathe, right, and you're going to learn how to lathe or you're going to learn how to mill, and that's a great starting point. And then I think once you're in that business maybe for weeks, maybe months, maybe years you'll start to learn who his customers are and what they're looking for and then maybe have some idea of your own and now some experience of your own where you can jump off.

Jack Zwart: 49:06

One thing I was thinking about I saw the other day was, like my wife, she has an antiquated taste in home design and so we're looking for some things around the house like doorknobs and door handles and stuff, and if you look online they're egregious. I think there's a market for someone to go out and make like doorknobs and drawer pulls and stuff Like. The opportunities are endless. You just got to look around a little bit and find what the market's asking for. And I know like we're growing now we're getting bigger and we don't have the man. You know we need to be making rebar.

Jack Zwart: 49:42

So at our facility we outsource, we do we'll do the design of a machine in house. You know, if we want a new, I'll try to say this without giving away some secrets, but like we need a new rebar making machine, right, and so we'll do the design. We know what it needs to look like, we know what we want it to do, but then those components we're going to, we're going to talk to our local machine shops, like I just mentioned, and say, hey, can you make part number A, b and C? And say, hey, can you make part number A, b and C? There's so much of that work that goes on that I had no clue about until I got in the industry.

Jack Zwart: 50:20

If you want to say that, everything from machines to dispose of waste to the parts that are actually making the product, to parts that are cleaning the air or ventilating, the bill, I mean it's everything. So you don't know until you, until you go somewhere and learn what someone else needs, I guess is the main part. And our, our small local area here I I couldn't say how many people are in the county, but probably less less than 50,000 people in our county and there's at least four different machine shops that Gator Bar will contract. So there's a big market for anyone to step in at that entry level, learn what the market needs and just take it from there.

Blythe Brumleve: 51:10

I think that you made such a great point about just finding the opportunities in everyday life that you wouldn't really even think about. Like the doorknobs, like rebar. I heard the other day of a guy who owns a very, very small team but does big numbers and all. He I say all but he manufactures ball bearings. But he manufactures ball bearings and if you think about how many things use a ball bearing and he has, you know, their customers of his, all of them, all across the country. He's providing that one product to them and I just think that you know there are.

Blythe Brumleve: 51:45

There is so much opportunity in those little nooks and crannies of everyday life. I think it's kind of goes back to the saying of you know, during the gold rush, you know, don't be the person looking for the gold, be the person that that's selling, like the, the, the shovels and the picks, um, because those are the things that people need to to get the job done and to get their work done. Um, I think this was a great conversation, uh, jack, anything else that that you would add that you know we we haven't already talked about?

Jack Zwart: 52:15

no, I guess. Um, when I listen to podcasts, I like it, like when people give examples and I'm not going to give examples from GatorB ar because I don't want to give stuff away, but, um, but so like, I think what what you just asked me is what a lot of people ask me, so maybe that's what I'll give examples of is like, how do you get started? Uh, like I told you, I don't have the best answers, but just in our little area here I want to give people like optimism and and reason. If you even are thinking about this, you know a reason to go try it.

Jack Zwart: 52:47

And so, um, there is a company in town here that, to my understanding, they make the vast majority, if not all, of thrusters that go on satellites. So you know, like it can start tiny and just grow into this huge thing If you're good at it. Like it can grow into this huge thing. So, like satellite thrusters are made up here, like it can grow into this huge thing, so like satellite thrusters are made up here, we have a guy in town here that runs a very professional manufacturing operation and what they do is they make non-destructive testing equipment for. So if we think about where this might be used basically like if Boeing's building an airplane, they need to probably test every airplane wing. Let's hope so. I shouldn't use Boeing. That's a horrible example.

Blythe Brumleve: 53:42

Let's hope they're testing it.

Jack Zwart: 53:43

Okay, but I will say, like they've been contracted by NASA and they've been contracted by Ford, by ford, you want to inspect every axle of every car that comes off the line, but you can't afford to like hammer on everyone or put everyone in a in a brake press, and so they make like this uh, liquid inspection system that allows you to search for um defects in the material surface without you know, without having to break the material. Um trying to trying to think, there's a big circuit board manufacturer that provides circuit boards for electronic medical equipment, so things like ventilators and those little beep, beep, beep heart monitors that you see at the hospital. There's an opportunity in every corner of everything we touch in our lives. So I think if anyone, if anyone is trying to get in, just start somewhere and it might turn into a really, really big thing. You just never know.

Blythe Brumleve: 54:42

I think it will.

Blythe Brumleve: 54:45

That's, uh, that is would be a perfect place, um, to end this conversation, but I have one more question that I have to ask, because I have been told this before and I'm a little skeptical about it. But how do you feel I've heard 3D printing or 3D printers is the future of manufacturing, that, you know, a small garage operation, you know, provided that they have the right plans and the right material that they're using in their 3D printer? Um, how do you have you ever, you know, had any experience with the 3d printers? Or had you know the, I guess, the longevity of those items that they're manufacturing?

Jack Zwart: 55:22

um, we don't handle anything 3d printed at our facility. I I also do some quality work for GatorB ar, and so I, every week or every month, I go to a materials testing lab and I get to. I don't want to speak like in definitive answers on 3d printing, but it's, I think we're still very far away. Um, very rudimentary consumer items like plastic things, yeah, sure, great, right. Um, they, there is like a metal 3d printing now where you can liquefy the metal and print what you want. Uh, I did get the pleasure of seeing one of those machines. The thing is it takes up like an entire room, like the machine is. It's huge and the area that it can print print, I think is a five by five square. So I think we're a long ways away, right, and it's probably very, very, very expensive. Uh, but the early computers took up an entire room at some point in time too, right?

Blythe Brumleve: 56:26

very true so that's. That's what I'll say about that well, that's yeah, that that's so manufacturing not exactly. If you want sophistication, there's other routes that you need to take besides the 3D printer in your garage. But if you're making like tabletop games or something like that, you need little plastic pieces.

Blythe Brumleve: 56:45

That might be the route you take, and you can be your own manufacturer in that regard. But, jack, this was a really great episode. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm going to put a link in the show notes to the Gator Bar website and also that Twitter thread that I mentioned earlier. Anywhere else you want me to send the folks.

Jack Zwart: 57:05

No, that should be good. Thanks for having my kids, kind of allowing my kids to kind of scramble around here.

Blythe Brumleve: 57:10

No, that was great.

Jack Zwart: 57:11

I really appreciate it, so thank you.

Blythe Brumleve: 57:13

Absolutely. Kids and pets make for great social media clips. So thank you again, and we'll have to do this again soon.

Jack Zwart: 57:22

All right, thank you. Bye, have a good one.

Blythe Brumleve: 57:30

You too. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight, telling the stories behind how your favorite stuff and people get from point A to B. Subscribe to the show, sign up for our newsletter and follow our socials over at everythingislogisticscom. And in addition to the podcast, I also wanted to let y'all know about another company I operate, and that's Digital Dispatch, where we help you build a better website.

Blythe Brumleve: 57:53

Now, a lot of the times, we hand this task of building a new website or refreshing a current one off to a coworker's child, a neighbor down the street or a stranger around the world, where you probably spend more time explaining the freight industry than it takes to actually build the dang website.

Blythe Brumleve: 58:09

Well, that doesn't happen at Digital Dispatch. We've been building online since 2009, but we're also early adopters of AI, automation and other website tactics that help your company to be a central place to pull in all of your social media posts, recruit new employees and give potential customers a glimpse into how you operate your business. Our new website builds start as low as $1,500, along with ongoing website management, maintenance and updates starting at $90 a month, plus some bonus, freight marketing and sales content similar to what you hear on the podcast. You can watch a quick explainer video over on digitaldispatchio. Just check out the pricing page once you arrive and you can see how we can build your digital ecosystem on a strong foundation. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this episode. I'll see you all real soon and go Jags.

About the Author

Blythe Brumleve
Blythe Brumleve
Creative entrepreneur in freight. Founder of Digital Dispatch and host of Everything is Logistics. Co-Founder at Jax Podcasters Unite. Board member of Transportation Marketing and Sales Association. Freightwaves on-air personality. Annoying Jaguars fan. test

To read more about Blythe, check out her full bio here.