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  January 18th, 2021 | Written by


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  • “The question of global sourcing will continue to be critical."
  • Cities with inland ports are uniquely situated to localize manufacturing and make supply chains more agile.
  • “The golden rule of the supply chain in a post-COVID-19 world is to avoid sourcing everything from one location."

From a logistics perspective, one of the biggest lessons learned (so far) in the COVID-19 pandemic is that long supply chains stretching across the globe can spell trouble. Shutdowns in one manufacturing center in Asia—or the United States, for that matter—can imperil companies down the chain. 

“The golden rule of the supply chain in a post-COVID-19 world is to avoid sourcing everything from one location or one company and to maintain alternative sources of supply,” said Brian Leonard and Mark Volkman, JLL’s managing director and executive vice president, respectively, in a July 2020 article in Heartland Real Estate Business magazine.

Morris Cohen, a professor of Manufacturing and Logistics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, goes even further.

“The question of global sourcing will continue to be critical,” Cohen said in a March 31, 2020 Bloomberg News story. “I believe that there will be a shift toward more regional and local solutions, with less dependence on single sources in other countries, as companies determine that the costs and risks of offshoring are even more significant than what they perceived them to be in the past.”

Cities with inland ports are uniquely situated to localize manufacturing and make supply chains more agile and transparent. Here are 20 we looked at that can do supply chain wonders.  

St. Louis, MO

From a supply chain perspective, St. Louis is fairly close to ideal. The region, which stretches along 15 miles of the Mississippi River, includes four ports, six Class I railroad carriers, four interstate highways and two international cargo airports. It also offers more grain handling capacity than anywhere else on the Mississippi, which is why the region is known as the “Ag Coast of America,” according to Inbound Logistics. St. Louis is also very attractive to manufacturers, brought by in low tax rates and close proximity to a highly skilled workforce, much of which has been trained in Supply Chain Management at local colleges.

Cincinnati, OH

In their Heartland Real Estate Business magazine piece, Leonard and Volkman point to the fact that Cincinnati is “within a 10-hour truck drive of 54 percent of the U.S. population.” This is absolutely critical for companies trying to make their supply chain(s) as nimble as possible. Couple it with Cincinnati’s three intermodal terminals, quarter-million feet of industrial space, another 8 million square feet under construction and close proximity to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and you have a desirable location from a supply chain perspective.

Pittsburgh, PA

Business leaders in Pittsburgh are taking the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chain very serious. So much so that in July 2020, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a coalition of companies, labor organizations and business associations called Pittsburgh Works Together—which formed as the pandemic lockdowns began—unveiled a new plan to shorten the region’s supply chain. Their proposals included that the region should “fully develop its energy sector, especially around natural gas; encourage trade school routes for high school graduates who don’t go to college; rebuild local infrastructure; and reduce Pennsylvania’s corporate tax burden,” according to the Post-Gazette

Kansas City, MO

Because four major interstate highways intersect in Kansas City, trucks leaving the region can reach virtually the entire continental U.S. within 48 hours. This is a major advantage for companies located there, and the city’s economic officials are doing what they can to make their supply chains more agile. “Technology is something we need to learn how to embrace and use to solve problems,” said Chris Gutierrez, president of KCSmartPort at its industry briefing in April 2020, according to the Kansas City Economic Development Corporation. “In Kansas City, we are proud to carry that innovative thinking into discussions around making our regional supply chain companies more successful in today’s global marketplace.”

Memphis, TN

One of just four cities in the U.S. that’s served by five Class I railroads, Memphis is uniquely suited for all supply chain needs. According to a September 2019 Supply Chain Dive post, the city is also served by Memphis International Airport (the largest air cargo airport in the Western Hemisphere), three major highways and a port that moved about 11 million short tons of goods in 2017. It’s no wonder that Udo Lange of FedEx Logistics told Supply Chain Dive that Memphis “is one of the great logistics hubs in the world.”

Chicago, IL

Chicago is a global supply chain powerhouse. “On the national scale, the region is a transportation node in a number of North American supply chains,” states the 2015 Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) report “Chicago Region Supply Chain Trends and Trading Partners.” “On a regional scale, transportation infrastructure supports the region’s manufacturing cluster, which benefits from strong connections to international markets.” All of which is made possible by Chicago’s connections to two major waterways, six Class I railroads, seven interstate highways and the nation’s fourth busiest cargo airport.

Houston, TX

As one of the top energy producers in the world, Houston is a part of many global supply chains. While steel imports at Port Houston are down considerably from this time last year, according to a June 2020 webinar on global supply chains hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership, the reason is due more to Section 232 tariffs and lower oil prices than the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall cargo remains steady, while aggregates and grains are up considerably, and the port itself is investing $2 billion in terminal and channel improvements, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. Houston is also served by three Class I railroads, three interstate highways and a major international airport.

Charlotte, NC

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) says Charlotte “sits at the heart of the Southeast’s manufacturing and distribution sites.” The city connects to four interstate highways (two of which tie into the port). There are also two intermodal facilities in the city and Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the seventh busiest international airport in the world. According to a 2019 analysis of Charlotte’s logistics by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, the region sits within 12 hours of slightly more than half of the U.S. population. 

Stockton, CA

A transportation hub since the mid 19th century, Stockton is located in California’s Central Valley. Though the city is best known for its 35-foot-deep inland port, it also boasts extensive rail connections. According to a December 2019 Business View Magazine article, nine of the city’s 13 industrial parks have rail access. In addition, all of its industrial parks are freeway close, and are within five to 15 minutes of both the port and Stockton Metropolitan Airport, which can accommodate all wide body aircraft currently in service.

Cleveland, OH

Port of Cleveland officials say their public and private harbors handle about 13 million tons of cargo every year. Cleveland processes a lot of heavy machinery, containers, iron ore, limestone and steel, among other cargoes, which isn’t surprising given that it’s the first major port of call on the Great Lakes for ships traveling the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Cleveland Bulk Terminal can handle 5,200 tons of iron ore per hour and is connected to one of the two Class I railroads that serve the port. Given that the port is just an eight-hour drive from half the U.S. population, it’s no wonder Cleveland is big on a lot of supply chains.

Duluth, MN

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority considers the Port of Duluth-Superior to be the “bulk cargo capital” of the Great Lakes, which isn’t surprising since it handles 35 million short tons of bulk cargo every year. “Maritime’s inherent efficiencies are critical to the success of supply chain managers worldwide,” states the port authority. “Shared by two cities and two states, the Port of Duluth-Superior has been the backbone of this region’s economy for well over a century.” Couple this with the city’s immediate access to I-35 and four Class I railroads, and it’s clear why this inland port city is so valuable from a supply chain perspective. 

Detroit, MI

Detroit is the busiest northern border crossing into Canada, according to that city’s Chamber of Commerce. It’s also the second largest customs port of entry into the U.S. in terms of the value of goods. The city is served by four Class I railroads, three intermodal terminals and the Port of Detroit, which handles 17 million tons of cargo every year. Much of that is raw materials, according to port officials: high grade steel, coal, iron ore, cement, aggregate and other building materials. In fact, the Port of Detroit is the third largest port in the U.S. in terms of handling steel. 

Louisville, KY

Louisville actually has two inland ports, both of which are vital supply chain components. There is, of course, the Port of Louisville on the Ohio River, which handles a variety of bulk cargos, including coal, grain and potash, and is served by three major eastern railroads. But there’s also the massive UPS Worldport, an air hub built in the early 2000s that today moves a staggering quantity of packages—many of them within a day. Three hundred flights carrying 2 million packages move in and out of the Worldport, which is as large as 90 football fields, every day. Eventually, Worldport officials say the center will be able to process as many as half a million packages per hour.

Vicksburg, MS

The only rail crossing of the Mississippi River in the state of Mississippi is at the Port of Vicksburg. The port currently handles 14 million tons of freight each year, but Vicksburg officials are looking at expanding it in the near future. In July 2020, the Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership released a report outlining the supply chain growth advantages of such an expansion. “The top six market opportunities identified in the report include scrap iron imports from Mexico, containerized soybean exports, wood-chip exports in containers, resin exports, steel (mini) mill attraction and the imports of spruce logs,” the Vicksburg Post reported.

Green Bay, WI

Logistics and supply chain management jobs have been centering in Green Bay for many years now. Today, the region has the 18th highest concentration of transportation logistics jobs in the nation, according to an August 2019 Go Press Times article. The Port of Green Bay ties into enough major interstates to allow trucks to make overnight deliveries to anywhere within a 400-mile radius, according to the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. “The Port of Green Bay is the westernmost port of Lake Michigan,” port officials say. “The Port of Green Bay offers the shortest, most direct route for shipments between the Midwest and the world.”

Tulsa, OK

The Tulsa Port of Catoosa is one of the largest (and most inland) ports in the nation. It’s always ice-free and hosts more than 60 companies, according to the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce. The port allows Oklahoma industries to take advantage of navigable waterways that connect Minneapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Sioux City, Brownsville and the Florida coast. Tulsa is also served by two Class I railroads, three interstate highways and Tulsa International Airport, which is just 10 minutes from the port. Six air cargo carriers and the U.S. Postal Service all maintain operations at Tulsa International. 

Shreveport, LA

The Port of Caddo-Bossier, which is just four miles south of the Shreveport city limits, ties into two Class I railroads, two interstate highways and two U.S. highways. The port also provides access to the Red River, Mississippi River, Gulf Intercoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. The port authority considers it one of the fastest growing ports in the nation, and it currently handles liquid petroleum, aggregate, coiled steel, plate steel, fertilizer, over dimensional cargo, scrap steel, steel beams, coal, tire chips and frac sand. 

Philadelphia, PA

Because of its location in the heavily populated coastal Northeast, Philadelphia has nearly unmatched strategic value. In fact, because of the interstate highways and two Class I railroads that serve the Port of Philadelphia, shippers can move products to 70 percent of the nation’s population within 72 hours. In November 2016, when state officials announced a $300 Port Development Plan that would double container volume processing, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority Chairperson Jerry Sweeney said, “This new service validates what we have known for a long time. Philadelphia is a more efficient supply chain option for major beneficial cargo owners.”

Milwaukee, WI

Situated on Lake Michigan, 467-acre Port Milwaukee provides easy access to the St. Lawrence Seaway. According to Transportation & Logistics International, it’s also the only “Lake Michigan port beyond Chicago approved to serve the Mississippi River inland waterway system, which provides direct river barge access to the Illinois River that connects other U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico.” The port also connects to I-94/795, ties into two Class I railroads and processes around 2.5 million tons of cargo per year—much of grains, cement and limestone.

Toledo, OH

The supply chain advantages in Northwest Ohio almost defy belief. The region boasts a 130,000-strong workforce, according to Toledo’s Regional Growth Partnership. The city and its port are just a single day’s drive to 60 percent of the U.S. market. The three major interstates and four railways that service Toledo provide a huge advantage for shippers. And in terms of natural disasters, Toledo is a relatively low-risk area, and the whole region boasts an affordable cost of living.