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Colliers International: Will the United States Be Ready for Intermodalism?

August 2012
Colliers International recently released its North American Port Analysis Report highlighting the rapid growth of "intermodalism," i.e., the interconnected - as opposed to isolated - use of various transportation modes such as seaport/ship together with rail, and the need for significant investment in U.S. ports post-Panamax, or post-Panama Canal expansion.

The Colliers' report identifies a number of key issues as follows:

  • Intermodalism, which is vital to the success of the global supply chain, has advanced from "the equivalent of the ice age to the space age" in the past 55 years.

  • Four East Coast ports will be ready to handle post-Panamax ships by 2015, including Baltimore (2013), Miami (2014), New York (2015), and Norfolk, which is already prepared. Four West Coast ports are also already post-Panamax ready: Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, and Seattle.

  • A multibillion-dollar investment is required for North American ports to meet the demands of Post-Panamax container traffic by 2030, when 60 to 70 percent of the world's container fleet will be 18-22 containers wide. Currently, the United States is ranked 23rd among nations in funding port infrastructure.

  • The United States is also far behind other countries in terms of port activity and does not rank among those nations having the world's top-10 busiest ports. Six of the world's 10 busiest container ports are in China, and the busiest port, in Shanghai, handles 29 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers. In comparison, the busiest U.S. port is Los Angeles/Long Beach, which only handles 14 million TEUs.

  • Overheated port competition, environmental inaction, labor strikes, slowing global GDP, and state budget crises are just some of the risks faced by U.S. ports in the future.

  • For the first time since World War II, container traffic growth on the U.S. East Coast has surpassed that on the West Coast.

This is in large part due to emergent, strong manufacturing companies moving to the Southeast and Midwest. K.C. Conway, executive managing director of Market Analytics at Colliers International and author of the report, notes, "Changing patterns of global commerce, and logistics models and routes mean we have to rethink how and where we invest in maintaining relevant port infrastructure to remain competitive long term. The port infrastructure in the U.S. continues to mature on a daily basis through intermodalism. With a number of investment and engineering feats ahead, the U.S. remains well-positioned to positively impact global trade and the overall supply chain."

With the report, Colliers has also initiated the 2012 Port Awards to recognize the top 10 North American ports, bestowing accolades on the Port of Houston, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the Jacksonville Port Authority, and the Alabama State Port Authority, among others. A full list of those receiving Port Awards and further analysis on the North American ports can be obtained from the complete report.

For additional information on how the Panama Canal expansion is affecting real estate surrounding U.S. ports, see "6 Key Themes Driving The U.S. Industrial Real Estate Resurgence."

According to Jones Lang LaSalle's Richard H. Thompson, Managing Director and Americas Leader, Supply Chain & Logistics Solutions; and John Carver, Executive Vice President, Ports Airports and Global Infastructure Group; the Panama Canal expansion project has not only been hailed as a game-changer for shippers, but also as an opportunity for U.S. developers and investors in the United States, impacting everything from shipping and rail-line construction to warehousing and terminal development. This has prompted companies in both seaport and inland markets to re-examine their logistics processes and facility positioning. The demand for industrial property around these U.S. receiving ports - both inland and coastal - is set to rise as U.S. ports prepare to cater to the next generation of large shipping vessels.

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