A Short List of Top Logistics Locations
Which locations are ready to handle your next logistics facility?
Christopher Steele, Global COO and North American President, Investment Consulting Associates (ICA) (LDW: Logistics, Distribution & Warehousing 2009)

As global trade continues to change along with fluctuations in the value of the dollar, fuel costs, and the overall state of the economy, several communities stand as true winners in the global logistics game. The lists that follow contain cities that have performed well in diversified screenings in the recent past, are poised to capture significant new volume, or are otherwise likely to be centers of innovative logistics activity.

Of course, as with any ranked list, it is important to note that each and every location decision is unique and reflects the specific requirements of a company as it works to meet the needs of its customer base efficiently. Hence, there are a lot of good locations that will not appear below that will serve as excellent bases of operations for some companies. Likewise, the locations below will not work for every company's need.

No specific weighting and ranking has been used to develop these lists. While tempting, such a concept would provide a false ranking for the reasons cited above. As a result, these lists are - to some degree
- subjective.

Reinvestment in the legacy freight hubs of the United States has gained steam over the past couple of years. In general, the above locations provide access to the largest and/or most rapidly growing consumer bases in the Unites States. All have very strong multimodal connections, and what had been the historic mega rail hubs of Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta, and Dallas from decades past have all experienced new growth in trucking and air, and have seen dramatic new re-investment in rail.  This growth has been particularly strong in the Southeast, where investments in new manufacturing facilities, port expansion, and rapid population growth have converged to drive a major need for investment in the distribution network. This is particularly relevant to the regions around Atlanta, Central Florida, and North Carolina. Southern California continues to experience dramatic growth through the repackaging and distribution of goods entering from the Pacific Rim. Other areas such as Eastern Pennsylvania and Northwest Virginia serve as alternate, lower-cost distribution locations to the heavily populated Northeast, while trying to avoid some of the congestion along the I-95 corridor.

Port capacity in the United States is strained, with large investments along both coasts attempting to compensate for limited capacity and increasing regulation at traditional U.S. ports. Los Angeles capacity issues and environmental regulations have spurred growth in both Mexico and Canada as a means to satisfy the need for imported goods from Asia. Also gaining - as a result of Pacific trade seeking easier routes to large U.S. markets - are the new ports of Lazaro Cardenas and Guaymas in Mexico and Prince Rupert in British Columbia. All have direct links to less-congested Class I rail mainlines. Lazaro Cardenas will expect up to 700k TEU per year in Phase I, expandable to 2.0m. Guaymas will be built to a 850k TEU capacity.

Certainly Los Angeles/Long Beach and New York/New Jersey have - and will continue to have -
a very large share of overall port-related activity, but Norfolk, Savannah, and Charleston have experienced and will continue to gain significant growth in the near term due to the size constraints in the Panama Canal.  Other facilities such as Melford in Nova Scotia may soon join this list once they become fully operational.

Port-related intermodal facilities create an interesting challenge in that they require new and innovative approaches to utilize limited property available along the waterfront. In the case of most legacy port cities, investigation into agile port systems and other initiatives have become more numerous as the country copes with its current capacity issues. In addition to better utilizing space, ports have also started to become increasingly conscious of the environment. This is most relevant in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where strict environmental regulations are scheduled to take effect in the coming months and years, with limits on the types of fuel and number of trucks into and out of the port among some of the more stringent guidelines.

As transportation has grown more important, investment is taking place in some expected and, indeed, some unexpected places. Major infrastructure hubs are upgrading facilities and infrastructure to help to improve the ability of goods to flow through their system. The goal for many of these locations is to serve as alternative ports of entry or waypoints to the traditional logistics hubs, allowing those operators to relieve congestion and mitigate the impact of increased population growth and trade on any one particular location.

Two of the largest investments are occurring in the state of Ohio, with Norfolk Southern's Rickenbacker project and CSX's National Gateway project. Both are expected to serve as alternatives for multimodal transportation, with an added benefit of mitigating the downturn in the economy by creating jobs in one of the regions most in need. Other areas, such as Toledo and Cleveland, are expected to gain through increased water traffic through the St. Lawrence.

In addition to those projects, CSX is investing additional monies into a large intermodal facility in Winter Haven, Fla. JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority) has created a U.S. headquarters near Orangeburg, S.C., and is working to develop a multimodal distribution concept in order to serve the rapidly growing Southeast consumer market.  Such developments also provide useful solutions to community environmental concerns and demands for reduced traffic, while serving increasing and changeable consumer demand.

In Texas, Dallas, San Antonio, and the areas along the Gulf Coast are all working to increase capacity both as a means to accommodate a growing consumer base, as well as to accommodate increased container and import traffic coming over the Mexican border from the growing Mexican ports of Guaymas and Lazaro Cardenas. As container volumes shift to these ports, increased development in infrastructure for handling the entry of these containers must be developed. Union Pacific is currently developing an intermodal terminal in San Antonio expected to handle many of these consumer goods. In addition, Southern Dallas is investigating the development of logistics and supply-chain facilities and is already home to Union Pacific's Southern Dallas Intermodal Terminal, a potential BNSF intermodal facility, and the Lancaster Municipal Airport, a future cargo airport.

All in all, this is a very exciting time to be working with logistics and shipping. Shippers have rediscovered the value of diversity in their shipping options, and this rediscovery results in a host of opportunities for communities and developers in looking to accommodate these changes. Some of the communities on these lists are at the forefront of preparing for these changes and are poised to be real centers of major activity for the next quarter century.

Chris Steele is president of CWS Consulting Group LLC. He was formerly with TranSytems' real estate consulting group. With over 17 years of direct experience in real estate, location, and development advisory, he has worked with a wide range of industries and users, ranging from banks and high-tech companies through heavy industry and intermodal development.

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