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JLL: Industrial Investment Continues in U.S. Seaports

September 2012
The U.S. East Coast is gearing up for an expanded Panama Canal as trade flows continue to shift among developed and emerging countries. This has resulted in increased competition for market share of inbound shipping, according to Jones Lang LaSalle's Fall 2012 U.S. Seaport Outlook.

Among the reports findings:

  • The top three U.S. ports are still the same, but the Port of New York/New Jersey now leads Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

  • Exports, now at an all time high for the United States, have become an increasingly important driver of activity at domestic ports and their surrounding real estate markets.

  • East Coast ports continue to make progress in preparing for the opening of the new set of locks at the Panama Canal, which are now set to be completed in 2015. In fact, according to Colliers International's recently released its North American Port Analysis Report, 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.

  • Ports have continued to invest heavily in infrastructure improvements. At least $13 billion of public investment is flowing into ports over the next decade. These improvements will expand capacity and increase efficiency.

  • The new port being constructed at Colon on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal is poised to quickly jump into the ranks of the world's most crucial transshipment hubs.

  • There are limited options available for large space users - with only 20 blocks of space available for users requiring 250,000 square feet within five miles of a major U.S. port

The Jones Lang LaSalle report includes its Port Index, which ranks ports on terminal operating and real estate market factors. As previously stated, this year's Index, for the first time in its four-year history, has rated the Port of New York and New Jersey at the top of the list, followed closely by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

"These three major seaports profit from several factors: first, they support vast local population centers; second, infill vacancy around the ports themselves remains tight and new development is prized; and lastly they are connected to less land-constrained, adjacent markets that facilitate `big-box' logistics space," said Aaron Ahlburn, Head of Industrial Research for Jones Lang LaSalle Americas.

Ports like Seattle, with strong demographics and a sizeable consumer base within a 24-hour trucking window have remained high on the Index. Similarly, others that are competitive shipping destinations, such as Houston, Miami, and Baltimore, are moving to re-establish more solid industrial leasing and investment conditions. Ports that may not benefit from immediate large populations such as Hampton Roads, Jacksonville, Savannah, and Charleston remain important throughput hubs to move goods and materials into other parts of the country.

East Coast ports such as Savannah, Charleston, Jacksonville, and Baltimore have higher vacancy rates in their surrounding port markets, but have experienced the fastest growth in occupancy over the last 18 months. "We expect development to remain cautious as these markets continue to strengthen over the coming quarters," said Ahlburn.

Many port markets that experienced significant `big box' development prior to the downturn have not yet been able to burn off their excess construction. Houston, Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville all have double-digit vacancy rates. Nonetheless, according to Craig Meyer, Executive Managing Director and leader of Jones Lang LaSalle's Logistics and Industrial Services group, demand for quality big-box space will continue in such key logistics hubs as California's Inland Empire, New Jersey (especially central), Chicago, and Dallas. More activity is also expected in the emerging intermodal hubs, such as Kansas City and Memphis.

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