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Bots are everywhere these days. They play poker against you and help you order a pizza. They assist in getting you hotel reservations and chat with you when you contact customer service to find out why your pizza had extra onions instead of extra cheese. And now, thanks to Cork, Ireland-based Keelvar, they can all but take over a company’s ocean and air freight procurement.

There’s no question air cargo really needs help right now, given the volatility in the market. Capacity is down, way down—nearly 40 percent from China in mid-February, 20 percent over the last year as a whole. Ocean capacity has also dropped. Meanwhile, demand has been rising, due to the pandemic. Optimizing sourcing at a time when rates, transit times and carriers are changing so rapidly is challenging for even the largest firms. 

For Keelvar, there are few better times to unleash their bots.

“We’ve been helping shippers to find ways to bring the product to market faster,” says Keelvar CEO Alan Holland. “It’s automated—that’s what’s different about what we’re doing. A bot can go to work as soon as someone wants to move something, say, from Montevideo to New York. It’s always available. That’s the biggest competitive advantage.”

The bots that Keelvar and many other companies make these days are simply software that automates specialized tasks. Keelvar calls the artificial intelligence (AI) bots it makes Sourcing Automation, which it defined in a June 2018 white paper as “a new category of software that leverages intelligent systems to automate complex human reasoning that exceeds expert standards.” 

Holland likens his bots to those that entered the world of online poker a few years ago. The earliest poker bots could play the game well, but couldn’t best professional players. But as the software evolved, the AI learned how to play better. Today, even the best poker champions in the world can’t beat the latest generation of poker bots. Holland’s goal, which he articulated in the white paper, is creating software that performs sourcing work for companies better than the experts in the field.

“The sobering fact is that AI is defeating the best human experts in most tasks where the boundaries and constraints on decision making are well-defined closed systems,” states the Keelvar white paper. “It would be a mistake to assume that AI won’t be competitive in the task of strategic sourcing and then ultimately overtake humans in this role. Once the boundaries of decision making are communicated, then the game-theoretic reasoning for optimizing the mechanism for sourcing goods and services becomes just another complex but the tractable calculation for Artificial Intelligence.”

In other words, Keelvar says their bots can automate all bidder communications in sourcing: opening, feedback generation, data cleansing, closing, termination-criteria monitoring, and activation. They basically run a company’s sourcing events, though logistics officials are always free to override the bot’s preferred course of action. Sourcing events can be complex and require the labor of many employees, some with years or decades in the procurement field, but Keelvar’s sourcing automation can basically handle it all.

“This process is tedious to execute manually and the more bidders there are, the more onerous the tasks above become and also the more likely that short-cuts are taken, and mistakes are made,” states Keelvar’s white paper. “Furthermore, the slow pace in manual events leads to curtailment of the rounds of bidding and inevitable lost savings opportunities due to the frictional effect of manual operations.”

What’s more, Keelvar’s ocean freight bots can even account for the pollution emissions of cargo vessels when conducting sourcing events (a feature that will eventually be available on the company’s air cargo bots). “Humans can’t get to that level of detail to do emission-sustainable options,” Holland said.

While the ocean freight bot has been around a year or so, the air freight bot only became available in January. Keelvar says the bot can automate 90 percent of a company’s tactical sourcing processes.

“It’s a natural evolution from our first bot, the ocean freight bot,” Holland said. “There’s a finite set of airport codes, but different logic around recommendations in air freight. Bid sheets are different, and cargo tends to be weight-based, rather than container-based, which is how ocean freight works.”

For Felix Plapperer, a venture capital investor and CEO of Paua Ventures, Keelvar’s sourcing bots will “dominate” the procurement market. Not merely because the bots are inherently more efficient than manual labor, but also because they learn the sourcing job better every time they operate. 

“When a tender/auction is conducted by a bot, the number of actions is between eight and 20, depending on the complexity,” Plapperer wrote in a June 4, 2020, post on Medium on why he invested in Keelvar. “If each bot action costs less than $1, then the cost per event is roughly one or two orders of magnitude (yes, that is 10x to 100x times) cheaper than for an event operated by manual labor. Now, these cost savings only capture the value driven by process automation. As ‘mini-tenders’ are not run by sourcing experts, little to no optimization takes place (in fact, often personal relationships drive the outcome). Sourcing bots, in contrast, analytically optimize each and every event based on business priorities. Thus, they create additional value in reduced spend—every time they are at work.”

Of course, the bots aren’t replacements for a company’s procurement teams, but were designed to work alongside them. Major companies such as BMW, Novartis, Siemens and Coca Cola are already using Keelvar’s bots for their procurement.

Another of Keelvar’s recent customers, McKesson Corp., is an Irving, Texas-based healthcare and pharmaceutical company founded back in 1883. According to Keelvar’s marketing materials, McKesson was on track to save 6 percent of its global freight budget prior to the pandemic, and had already saved 6 percent the year prior, through the use of sourcing optimization products from Keelvar.

“Excel is nice, but it’s not where we need to be,” said Tad Strong, McKesson’s Vice President of Global Operations during a March 2021 webinar hosted by Procurement Leaders. “And over the next few years, we’ve some pretty big plans on making that shift into a more automated, more robust system.” 

So, what does the future hold? Holland wouldn’t comment on whether his company is developing a bot to handle ground freight logistics (though that would be a logical step for the company), but he did say the next generation of artificial intelligence bots are just on the horizon.

“This is all level four automation, but level five automation systems in the future will have more autonomy,” said Holland. “We want the bot to autonomously decide on new carriers. There’s a lot of strategy on negotiating rates. You learn by experience which strategies are best. In level five, the bot learns new strategies.”

Holland said the first of examples of his level five AI bots in ocean freight should appear in the fourth quarter of this year. 



The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on global shipping. One of the categories hit worst was roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro). These ships, which revolutionized the transport of automotive and military vehicles, often found themselves with nowhere to go as automakers shut down their plants in the first half of 2020 to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Figures compiled by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)—and published in its report COVID-19 and Maritime Transport: Impact and Responses—show just how bleak the Ro/Ro sector got, with the ships stopping in five percent fewer ports in the first quarter of 2020 than the same quarter a year earlier, and nearly 25 percent in the second quarter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted on Ro/Ro services,” states the UNCTAD report. “Since March 2020, port calls by Ro/Ro ships worldwide declined by 22.8 percent compared with the same period in 2019. One in four ship calls has been suspended. Total calls by Ro/Ro ships since the beginning of 2020 declined by 13.8 percent as compared with the same period in 2019.”

While those declines were bad, it’s also true that vehicle traffic rebounded in the latter half of the year. We looked at 10 U.S. ports that have Ro/Ro capability to see how bad the situation got before they recovered—and how they did it. All of these ports instituted special COVID-19 protocols at the start of the pandemic, and all have remained operational throughout the crisis.


Port officials say that in the spring of 2020, the closure of so many automakers dramatically lowered the number of automobiles entering Colonel’s Island Terminal. May 2020 saw the worst volume decrease—down 77 percent compared to May 2019.

The rebound started in June, though port officials say Ro/Ro traffic that month was still 38 percent below June 2019. July was better, in that it was only down 11 percent. By August, Ro/Ro traffic was actually up 9 percent, though September was flat. The rest of the year saw Ro/Ro traffic up 32 percent over the previous year; November down 16 percent, and December was 27 percent ahead of the same month in 2019.

For the year, Colonel’s Island terminal served 435 vessel calls in 2020, compared to 466 in 2019. Put another way, in 2020 the Port of Brunswick handled 587,395 units of Ro/Ro cargo, a decrease of 25,506 (4 percent) compared to 2019.


The Port of Baltimore ranks “first among the nation’s ports for volume of autos and light trucks, roll on/roll off heavy farm and construction machinery, and imported gypsum,” according to the Maryland Port Administration. After sustained decreases in Ro/Ro traffic throughout the spring, December totals showed a triple-digit increase—the sixth consecutive month of increased compared to the first months of the pandemic, according to a Feb. 3, 2021, Maryland Port Administration news release. What’s more, December figures for general cargo, containers and Ro/Ro represent year-over-year monthly gains versus December of the previous year.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Port of Baltimore has been a barometer of Maryland’s economic recovery, and the latest figures give us great optimism for the new year,” Governor Larry Hogan said in the news release. “The port’s healthy rebound is an indicator of increased consumer demand, and we’ve proven we have the talented workforce and the infrastructure to answer that demand.”

By December 2020, 67,063 tons of Ro/Ro traffic moved through the Port of Baltimore—up nearly 36 percent from June. In fact, December was so good that Ro/Ro traffic was up 1 percent from the same month in 2019.


In the spring of 2020, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo shut down auto plants in the South due to COVID-19. This cut Ro/Ro traffic into Charleston by a third, according to 

But by August, the numbers started to recover. “Among the encouraging signs that port officials highlighted was the highest July on record for vehicle movement through the port,” according to Aug. 20, 2020, post in The Maritime Executive. “The strength in the Ro/Ro sector they believe signifies a return to normalcy at automotive plants throughout South Carolina and the Southeast.”

Port officials are so encouraged that they see a stronger rebound throughout 2021.

“We are encouraged by some signs of an initial rebound in our container and automotive volumes, as well as an increase in imports and a decline in blanked sailings,” S.C. Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said in an Aug. 20, 2020, Maritime Executive post. “However, a more substantial recovery is dependent on the duration and intensity of the economic impacts from the pandemic, and ultimately, on a vaccine.”


Like all U.S. ports, JAXPORT saw Ro/Ro traffic hit hard by the coronavirus. But the rebound in the summer and fall was strong. In fact, the last quarter of calendar year 2020 was “the second busiest quarter for vehicles in the port’s history,” according to a Feb. 11, 2021 JAXPORT news release.

Given that it’s one of the nation’s most diversified ports, and that means it’s “well-positioned to continue to see increased volumes to satisfy growing consumer demand in nearby markets throughout the Southeast, including South Florida, Orlando and the rest of the I-4 corridor,” said Alberto Cabrera, JAXPORT’s director of Automotive Accounts.

“An increase in U.S. military vehicle movements at the port helped to offset the industry-wide decline in commercial shipments due to the temporary shutdown of auto manufacturing over the summer caused by the coronavirus,” said Cabrera.

He adds that 2021 should be a “robust year” for emerging vehicle technology. “As manufacturers continue to rebound from the pandemic shutdowns, we will see the release of many new models with the advanced technology, including autonomous driving, steering assistance, and forward collision prevention, that consumers have been demanding,” Cabrera said. 


In late 2019, PhilaPort opened a giant new auto terminal and Vehicle Processing Center (VPC). “The VPC at Southport is capable of servicing 200 cars per hour and fully processing over 1,000 cars daily,” a PhilaPort news release said at the time. A few months later, the pandemic hit. After that, Ro/Ro traffic “was down, but not as much as the other Ro/Ro ports,” a PhilaPort spokesman said.

The port instituted new COVID-19 protocols, including closing the main administration offices in the early months of the pandemic. But by late September, the port reopened the offices. Today, the port is close to operating as usual—though with some adjustments. 

“This port handles almost 1 million tons of forest products in a normal year,” said Penn Warehousing and Distribution’s Tom Mutz in a Feb. 5, 2021, PhilaPort news release. “But COVID and new modes of consumer behavior have resulted in even greater amounts of forest products entering our port.”


Port officials made clear that COVID-19 had very little impact on the operations at the Port of Galveston. That being said, the temporary closure of many auto plants did cause a significant slowdown in Ro/Ro traffic for much of 2020. You can see it in the numbers provided by port officials: The port moved 487,371 vehicles in 2019, but just 314,790 in 2020.

That said, port officials noted that other traffic at the port is strong. In fact, they report that the port saw 25 cargo vessels in January 2021—up considerably from the 19 that arrived in pre-pandemic January 2020. 


For the Port of Hueneme, May and June of 2020 were the worst months of the pandemic for Ro/Ro traffic. During those months, Ro/Ro ship traffic dwindled almost to zero. Recovery finally came in the last quarter of 2020, which saw four to five Ro/Ro ships coming into port every week. 

But the damage had been done. In 2019, Ro/Ro ships moved 346,288 autos in and out of the Port of Hueneme, but just 282,164 in 2020—an 18.5 percent drop in a year. Overall tonnage dropped at the port 1.8 percent due to the pandemic. But so far, officials say Ro/Ro volume is still showing a strong recovery and is now 1 percent higher than the same period last year.

Port officials also say their own internal operations and communications plan worked very well in dealing with COVID-19 cases. In fact, they say the port saw just 19 reported COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in March 2020. Currently, the port is working with local officials to prioritize the vaccinations cycles for their workforce.


For the first half of 2020, the Port of Virginia saw a significant drop in trade—due both to the COVID-19 pandemic and trade tariffs. But port officials are proud that throughout the crisis, the port has not lost a single-day of productivity. Despite the drop in traffic, the port instituted no layoffs or cuts in pay and benefits. Officials also noted that since the port was processing less cargo, efficiencies increased—dwell-time for rail imports, berth productivity and turn-times for motor carriers. The port also used the slow period to accelerate maintenance schedules for equipment and make operational tweaks.

By the end of the year, the Port of Virginia was actually setting records: The port processed more than 260,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in December, making it the best volume on record for that month. The port also set its all-time monthly volume record in November 2020 by handling more than 280,000 TEUs.

Today, Port of Virginia officials describe their Ro/Ro capabilities as “strong.” They expect a rebound in both automobiles and traditional Ro-Ro cargo in 2021, which they say they can accommodate at either their Newport News Marine Terminal or the Portsmouth Marine Terminal.


Long lines of shipping traffic into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are familiar to everyone within five miles of the Southern California coastline. Even in 2020, the traffic was considerable.

“Initially, the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the volume of containers flowing through the port, but the latter half of the year was very active as shippers worked to satisfy pent-up demand for goods,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “The Port of Long Beach had its best year on record in 2020, with 8,113,315 TEUs moved, up 6.3 percent from 2019. The port exceeded the previous annual record set in 2018 by 22,292 TEUs.”

But the same can’t be said for Ro/Ro ships. In fact, Ro/Ro data from the Port of Long Beach shows abysmal numbers: 302,811 vehicles in 2019, but just 239,135 in 2020.

To ensure that 2021 is good for all categories of shipping, Cordero is focusing on protecting his workforce.

“The nation’s waterfront workers have kept this country’s supply chain functioning since Day One of the pandemic, and they are at high risk,” Cordero said. “Prioritizing the waterfront workers for vaccination is of paramount importance, both for their safety, and for the sake of the economy. We are continuing to work with health officials to vaccinate essential workers, to maintain the fluidity of cargo movement.”


The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA), the operating entity behind the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, is the fourth largest container gateway in the United Sates. And the COVID-19 pandemic hit the NWSA hard across the board.

“Total container volumes in March were down approximately 21 percent as compared to March of 2019,” said John Wolfe, the NWSA CEO, according to an April 15, 2020, story in American Shipper. “That brings our year-to-date first-quarter decline to 15.4 percent.”

The situation at the ports was still bad, even into October.

“The economic fallout from COVID-19 continues to disrupt supply chains across the country and around the world,” stated an Oct 20, 2020, NWSA news release. “The NWSA gateway saw 59 blank sailings through September, surpassing the total number of canceled sailings in 2019.”

As with most ports in the U.S., by the end of the year cargo traffic had rebounded or even exceeded 2019 levels at the NWSA ports—except for auto volume. That stood at 156,205 units, down 18.6 percent from the previous year, according to a Jan. 20, 2021, NWSA news release.

port cities


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. 



Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the nation into a series of lockdowns, warehouses large and small were sprouting all over the U.S. Once the pandemic hit, and lockdowns forced much of the nation to remain at home, e-commerce spiked like never before, and that’s been driving up the demand for even more distribution facilities.

Since the lockdowns began, Amazon has hired 175,000 new employees and beefed up its distribution network across the country, according to the Houston Business Journal. In April 2020, the Dallas Morning News reported that the distribution sector was seeing record business because of the pandemic.

“We have already seen that warehouse operations are proving to be more essential than ever,” Michael Caffey, president of the analyst firm CBRE’s South-Central Division and Latin America, told the paper. “The long-term effects of COVID-19 may boost industrial demand as retailers work to ensure they have adequate inventory levels to meet consumer demand. … In addition, COVID-19 and its associated quarantines are creating new online consumers, which will further increase e-commerce’s share of total retail sales.”

While new and larger warehouses are going up all over the U.S., here are 20 communities where demand seems especially high.

Chicago, Illinois

The market for warehouses and distribution in Chicago has been massive for years—fed by e-commerce and cold-storage, according to a 2019 post on the Chicago real estate news website The Real Deal. Even legalized recreational marijuana is expected to help fuel the warehouse expansion. And it was recently ranked very high in a 2018 CBRE analysis of future warehouse development. “In the smaller cities you see more fluctuations, but Chicago is one of the largest markets in the country and is just really sustainable,” CBRE Senior Vice President Whit Heitman told the Chicago Business Journal at the time.

Riverside, California

The growth of e-commerce has been driving warehouse construction in California’s Inland Empire for at least the past five years, and there’s no end in sight, according to a January 2020 article in the Riverside Press Enterprise. In fact, the region accounted for 21 of the largest lease deals in the nation in 2019—17.5 million square feet of warehouses and distribution centers. Of particular note was that a full million of that square footage belonged to Nordstrom’s new Riverside warehouse. The reasons for the high demand include proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and a huge workforce that includes 141,000 logistics-related workers in Riverside and nearby San Bernardino Counties.

Houston, Texas

A steadily increasing population has led the Greater Houston Partnership to call that city and its surrounding metropolitan area a “global logistics and distribution hub,” according to a June 2020 Houston Business Journal story, and it’s easy to see why. The retail giant Amazon already operates a 1-million-square foot fulfillment center there, another 855,000-square-foot center, a few smaller facilities, and in June committed to building another fulfillment center that will encompass nearly a million square feet. In 2017, the Houston Chronicle reported that there was more than 6 million square feet in the city dedicated to warehousing and distribution—a 60 percent increase over the previous two years.

Detroit, Michigan

Even in the midst of a pandemic, people need to eat, which is why Lineage Logistics’ cold storage warehouse in Novi, just outside Detroit, announced that it was hiring 2,000 workers in March, as practically everyone else went into lockdown. According to a March 16 post on Crain’s Detroit Business news site, the labor increase is due to Lineage’s retail customers seeing a “20 percent to 50 percent increase” in sales as restaurants closed and grocery stores hurried to pick up the massive new demand. Growth in warehouse and distribution in Detroit has been steadily rising for the past five years, with Amazon opening a massive new fulfillment center in nearby Romulus in 2018.

Richmond, Virginia

In 2018, the firm CBRE declared that Richmond’s industrial warehouse market was in the midst of a “golden age,” according to an article that year in Virginia Business. Proximity to the Port of Richmond, a large population and growth in the e-commerce sector have led to growth that really began back in 2012, when Amazon opened a large distribution facility in the city. Since then, the size of the new warehouses began increasing along with their quantity—these days, the demand is for warehouses from 200,000- to 1 million square feet, according to Virginia Business.

Middlesex County, New Jersey

While the entire state of New Jersey has experienced considerable warehouse development (its location between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., makes it an ideal distribution hub), Middlesex County is a powerhouse on its own. In fact, in 2017 WHYY reported that the area—which is just off the Jersey Turnpike—is “internationally known as a prime location for warehouses.” In 2019 alone, Wayfair executed a 950,000-square-foot lease there, while Crate & Barrel opted for an 870,000-square-foot operation, according to an October 2019 post on ReBusiness Online. In early 2020, MyCentralJersey reported that the Rockefeller Group proposed redeveloping an old Union Carbide factory in the county into a 420,000-square-foot warehouse.

Atlanta, Georgia

Considering that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, and the city has been a logistical hub since before the Civil War, it’s no wonder that Atlanta holds so many warehouses. In fact, the city caters to a variety of business, education and government distribution networks and facilities, according to the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. And many of the facilities already built and under construction in Atlanta are both large and high-tech—able to accommodate both large fleets of vehicles as well as robots and drones. In just one quarter of 2018, more than 16 million square feet of warehouse space was under construction, according to an Atlanta Business Chronicle story that year.

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, warehouse operations are expanding in North Texas. In mid-April 2020, the Dallas Morning News reported that nearly 24 million square feet of warehouse space was under construction in the region. What’s more, the newspaper reported that warehouse demand there has run in the 20 million square feet range for the past four years. And with e-commerce making huge gains during the pandemic, industry analysts are predicting the demand won’t lessen anytime soon. “Increasing demand for goods bought online, especially food, will fuel the need for distribution facilities at a pace much higher than in the current cycle,” Michael Caffey, president of CBRE’s South-Central division and Latin America, said in the Morning News article.

Columbia, South Carolina

The Midlands region of South Carolina has long been home to giant distribution centers belonging to a range of companies, including Target, Home Depot and Amazon, the growth of which is closely linked to the rise of e-commerce. In fact, warehouse facilities make up the largest portion of the Midlands industrial real estate market (more than 44 million square feet), according to a July 2019 article in Columbia Regional Business Report. A late 2019 report from Colliers International found that the region would continue to grow due to “convenient logistic systems, a vibrant business climate, positive capital investment and low unemployment rates.”

Fernley, Nevada

For the past few years, Fernley has developed itself as Northern Nevada’s logistics hub. “It is particularly well-situated for linkages between rail, trucking and warehousing operations,” Robert Hooper, Northern Nevada Development Authority president and CEO, told KTVN News in June 2018. As Hooper said that, the powersports company Polaris was starting construction on a 475,000-square-foot distribution center in the town of about 21,000 people that’s about a half hour east of Reno. Since then, even larger facilities have been envisioned for Fernley, including an 815,000-square-foot warehouse that will be part of the new—and sprawling—Victory Logistics District, according to an April 2020 report in The Nevada Appeal. The new facilities, developers say, will include 40-foot clear heights, which will allow tenants to store more palletized products.

Portland, Oregon

While the growth in e-commerce has been responsible for massive new warehouses throughout the country, in Portland online retail is spurring growth in small warehouse construction. According to a March 2019 Oregon Business article, many smaller retailers who sell their products online are needing warehouse space to avoid the storage fees companies such as Amazon charge. In fact, many of these smaller retailers are looking to self-storage facilities for their needs, Oregon Business reports. In 2018, the real estate market analysis firm Yardi Matrix reported that Portland had one of the highest rates of self-storage facility development in America.

Phoenix, Arizona

Few cities in the U.S. are better equipped for warehouses and distribution than Phoenix. The biggest reason is undoubtedly the geography—Phoenix is relatively close to a variety of major cities throughout the Southwest, connected by a variety of major freeways. The hot and dry climate is also a contributing factor. According to a 2018 Colliers International Industrial Market Report, 7 million of the 7.8 million square feet of new industrial space in Phoenix that year was dedicated to warehousing and distribution. There are currently half a dozen major warehouses and distribution facilities planned for Phoenix and the surrounding area, according to an October 2019 report by the AZ Big Media publishing company.

York County, Pennsylvania

Central Pennsylvania is critical for warehouses and distributors, and York County is right in the thick of it. There are dozens of centers located there, mostly along the I-83 corridor between Harrisburg and Baltimore, and they are key to distribution for many East Coast cities, according to a March 2020 York Dispatch story. And the growth is continuing: Kinsley Properties—which already owns several warehouses in the county—has plans to build a new 175,000-square-foot warehouse along the corridor this year.

Birmingham, Alabama

Because the city sits at the juncture of four major interstates and is served by six rail lines, Birmingham is a natural distribution point. In October 2019, the Birmingham Business Journal reported that Amazon was preparing to build a nearly 100,000-square-foot warehouse in that city, which industry analysts said would help the e-commerce giant more toward same-day delivery. The Business Journal revealed that the warehouse would be up and running by the end of 2020. This facility followed an even larger one—an 825,000 square footer—that the company built in 2018 in Bessemer, which is just minutes away from Birmingham.

Miami, Florida

Warehouse demand—fueled largely by e-commerce—has been steadily rising in South Florida for the past few years. This isn’t surprising given the area’s close proximity to Central and South America and the Caribbean. And development is continuing into 2020. In fact, more than 3 million square feet of spec warehouse space is expected to come online this year, the Miami Herald reported in January. Four months later, The Real Deal South Florida Real Estate News reported that leases around Miami Airport were increasing in the logistics and transportation sectors—specifically in the 10,000-square-foot to 150,000-square-foot range.

Baltimore, Maryland

E-commerce has been expanding warehousing and distribution in Baltimore for the better part of a decade. In 2014, Amazon opened a massive 1-million-square-foot warehouse at an old General Motors plant in the city. A spokesperson for the online retailing giant told the Baltimore Sun at the time that the company chose the city because it put them closer to their customer base. (As the paper reported, the closest Amazon warehouse to Baltimore was 70 miles away at the time.) Since then, demand has only gone up; in fact, this past April, Amazon announced they would develop another 1-million-square-foot warehouse in Baltimore.

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville’s strategic location for shippers is unparalleled—Music City USA is served by three interstates, a navigable river and multiple rail lines. Since 2012, 3 million square feet of warehouse space has gone up in Nashville, according to a January 2020 article in The Tennessean. In late June 2020, Amazon—which is already building a massive office complex in Nashville—announced that it would also construct a 200,000-square-foot warehouse there, too. Like Portland, Oregon, Nashville is also seeing tremendous growth in the self-storage sector.

Cleveland, Ohio

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, growth in demand generated by e-commerce was far outstripping the supply of warehouses in Cleveland. And it’s not just Amazon, either: “A lot of companies are growing their delivery business, expanding their need for warehouse space,” News 5 in Cleveland reported in late February. Of course, Amazon is there, too, and the company announced in early July that it had leased a 434,000-square-foot warehouse in Cleveland to use as a new distribution facility, reported. Around the same time, Amazon also announced plans to start using two other smaller warehouses in the Cleveland area.

Denver, Colorado

Warehouse and distribution have been growing in the greater Denver area for nearly 20 years, the Denver Post reported in February. And while Amazon already operates four large centers there, growth is also coming from FedEx, Walmart, Tempur-Pedic and even industrial hemp, the Post noted. In early 2019, GE Appliances cited Denver’s rapidly rising population growth as reason for it to open a new high-tech Denver Area Distribution Center, complete with RFID-tracking and parking for 100 trailers. The new facility would allow the company “to deliver products in three days or fewer to 90 percent of U.S. homes,” Mark Shirkness, vice president of Distribution for GE Appliances, said at the time.

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, the UPS Worldport hub just south of the airport and the city’s general centralized location are big reasons why warehouse development has been growing in Louisville for the past few years. This has all contributed to a “red hot” industrial market there, the Louisville Future email newsletter reported in 2018. “The strength of the Louisville industrial market has been going on for several years, as its position as a central transportation hub, especially including UPS Worldport, and development of large industrial parks have invited large warehousing facilities—and, especially, e-commerce fulfillment,” Louisville Future stated. That there was 3.5 million square feet of new industrial market construction in Louisville in just the first six months of 2018 would seem to say “red hot” is an understatement.



Niche cities are playing a key role in our nation’s economic development, according to the McKinsey Global Institute’s July 2019 report “The Future of Work in America.” Some of the cities, which the report’s authors call “small powerhouses,” are currently enjoying the fastest economic growth rates in the nation.

Inspired by this, we found 20 niche communities around the U.S. and outlined what it is that makes them special.



For the past 120 years, rice has been a staple crop for Matagorda County, which is located in the coastal prairie region of Texas. So much so that the crop brings in $135 million every year to the county and surrounding area, according to the Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation. While drought in recent years has taken a toll on the farms, rice farmers have lately been diversifying with new enterprises and even niche marketing. Even with recent losses, the Texas Farm Bureau says Matagorda and nearby Colorado and Wharton counties account for 60 percent of the rice grown in the state.



Considered one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, Tulare County sits atop old Tulare Lake, which accounts for the incredibly fertile soil. Farmers and agro-scientists have raved over the land for easily the last century. “The soil is known to contain in exact proportions the elements needed for the growth of citrus trees,” states the 1910 Report of the California State Agricultural Society. Today, the county grows a variety of citrus, stone fruits, nuts, berries and silage crops. Farm employment accounts for a quarter of all jobs in Tulare County, which has 45 crops worth more than $1 million in farm gate gross value, according to the Tulare County Farm Bureau.



An astonishing half of all mushrooms grown in the U.S. comes from Chester County. Though mushrooms can grow anywhere (in fact, commercial mushrooms are typically grown indoors), since the late 1880s, farms started springing up in this part of Pennsylvania, according to a 2012 NPR report. Today, there are 60 farms here, producing a half-billion pounds of mushrooms every year. That’s about $400 million worth of Agaricus (also known as white button), Portobello, Cremini (also known as common), Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms every year. Agaricus mushrooms alone have 12.6 million square feet of growing space, according to the Chester County Agricultural Development Council.



Rockford calls itself the “Screw Capital of the World,” so you know it’s legit. Around the 1940s, when the city’s furniture-making industries began closing, the manufacturing of fasteners began to take off. By the 1960s, according to the Rockford Economic Development Council, the city was the fifth-largest fastener manufacturer in the nation. Though the city today is home to numerous automotive and aircraft manufacturing plants, it still produces many of the screws, bolts and fasteners we use.



Nearly 80 percent of all the gold mined in the U.S. comes from mines in and around Elko, which is located in northeastern Nevada. The more than a dozen mines there produced about 5.6 million troy ounces of gold in 2018, all worth about $7 billion. Though gold production has historically followed a pretty harsh boom and bust cycle, the geologist John Muntean told Elko Daily Free Press in July 2018 that the area has been experiencing a gold rush “for close to 50 years.”



Located in West Texas, Brownfield and surrounding Terry County have very dry air, which while great for grape production, was for a long time hindered by the local government’s prohibition-dry politics. But that relaxed a few years ago, and now wine is booming there, thanks to 3,000 acres of grape production. In fact, Brownfield grows most of the grapes in the entire state of Texas. “I think Texas loves vineyards because it’s Jesus’ first miracle,” Katy Jane Seaton, co-owner of Farmhouse Vineyards, told KCBD in 2018.



Considered the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, Plant City (and surrounding Hillsborough County) has about 8,000 acres in production, according to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Given the area’s mild subtropical climate and extremely fertile soil, this is easy to understand. The fields add up to Florida being the nation’s second-highest strawberry producing state, behind California. The Florida growing season runs from around Thanksgiving to the end of March, which is when they’re typically the most affordable at the supermarket.



For the last century, manufacturers in Wichita have produced more than a quarter million aircraft—more than any other city on Earth. In fact, Wichita business leaders dubbed it “Air Capital City” way back in 1929. Today, more than half of the world’s light civilian airplanes came from plants in Wichita—Bombardier Learjet, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and so forth. The list of aircraft types includes trainers, biplanes, racing planes, crop dusters, seaplanes, personal aircraft and business jets. Plants in Wichita also supply huge quantities of parts for other aircraft manufacturers.


Chile peppers

Hatch is a tiny town (pop. 1,680) with a huge reputation. Chile peppers are a huge crop in New Mexico, and much of them are grown here. Hatch chiles are world famous, known for their earthy taste and slow-burning heat. When roasted, they’re almost buttery. Some say the soil in the Hatch Valley provides the key to the peppers, while others point to the area’s 4,000-foot altitude (the peppers need hot days and cool nights to grow). “Hatch is considered the Napa Valley of chile,” Chris Franzoy, owner of the Hatch Chile Factory, told The New York Times in December 2019.



Officials in the village of Morton, located just outside Peoria, consider their little hamlet the “Pumpkin Capital of the World” because an astonishing 85 percent of all canned pumpkin on the planet comes from the plant there constructed back in 1920. Nestle USA/Libby’s owns the plant now, and it covers 5,000 acres. “There are also pumpkin farms surrounding this whole area,” Village President Ronald Rainson told a CBS Chicago reporter back in 2014. Morton gets good sunlight, farmers say, and the soils are varied, allowing for both early and late planting.


Recreational vehicles

When you see a big RV rolling down the road, there’s a very good chance it came from Northern Indiana. That region—and the town of Elkhart, especially—manufactures about 80 percent of all RVs found in the world. According to author Al Hesselbart, who documented Indiana’s manufacturing history in his book The Dumb Thing Sold… Just Like That, it all started in the 1930s when three guys decided to start making trailers in their Northern Indiana backyards. The area made sense, given that it’s located in the heart of America, making it easy for plants to ship their trailers around the county.



Somewhere between 50 million and 100 million years ago, massive quantities of aluminum silicate began washing down from the Piedmont Hills in Georgia. Eventually, these particles settled in a prehistoric sea that covered what is now Sandersville, located about halfway between Augusta and Macon. Known as kaolinite, this mineral is a vital ingredient in more than 100 modern products, including paper, ceramics, cosmetics, paint and even rocket nosecones. Every year, about 2.5 million tons of kaolinite is shipped out of Georgia, much of it from in and around Sandersville, where officials say the mining is an $800 million business and the Peach State’s largest volume export.



Three counties in Southern Illinois—Madison, Monroe and St. Clair—account for between 60 percent and 80 percent of all the horseradish grown in the nation. According to a 2018 article in St. Louis Magazine, there are three reasons for this. First, families that initially began farming horseradish back in the late 1880s have chosen to stay put. Second, much of the land is potash—extremely fertile soil that was once covered by the Mississippi River. And third (and most surprising): The sulfur pollutants released by the old steel mills in the area actually proved beneficial to the horseradish, actually giving the plant its characteristic heat, which is a product of its grating. In fact, the sulfur was so good to the horseradish that farmers today add it to the soil, making up for its loss from the closure of the steel mills.



Dalton makes wall-to-wall carpet. Since the 1890s, mills there have produced so much carpet that today it’s said that 90 percent of all wall-to-wall carpet in the world was made within 65 miles of Dalton, which is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 2015, Atlas Obscura reported that the mills in and around Dalton produced a whopping 12.2 billion square feet of carpet every year—“enough to cover the entirety of Hong Kong in a thick, rich shag.” Built atop a mammoth bedspread industry that dated to 1895 in Dalton, the carpet mills benefitted from close proximity to dyeing and finishing firms.



Since 1872, people have grown apples in Wenatchee, located in north-central Washington. According to the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, city boosters in the first decade of the 20th century pointed to the area’s volcanic soils, sunshine, abundant water, the absence of high winds and cold nighttime temperatures as reasons why apples thrived there. And they still do—today, there are more than 1,700 fruit growers in the area surrounding Wenatchee, producing more than half the fresh apples consumed in the country.



Though caviar has been raised in the Sacramento area (specifically, the tiny nearby town of Elverta) since the 1970s, it was only recently that the area won the distinction of producing the best fish eggs in the nation. Today, sturgeon are commercially raised in the Sacramento area (they have long thrived in the Sacramento River), thanks in great part to the poaching, over-fishing and pollution that damaged other caviar spots in the United States. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2013 that Sacramento sturgeon produce 70 to 80 percent of all American caviar produced every year.



High Point, located between Greensboro and Winston-Salem in North Carolina, is the largest producer of furniture in the nation. The earlier furniture built there dates to the late 1700s, and access to nearby forests made it easy for furniture-makers to thrive. The industry really took off in the late 1800s, when the Southern Railway came to town, allowing for easy distribution. According to a May 2019 story in House Beautiful, the city today boasts 12 million square feet of showroom space, which is roughly the equivalent of 200 football fields, and it hosts the massive High Point Market showing off the industry’s latest designs every April and October.



According to the Bend Chamber of Commerce, there’s one brewery in Bend for every 4,500 residents in the state—the highest per capita rate in Oregon. There are breweries (and brew festivals) throughout Bend, which is located about three hours from Portland. Situated by the Deschutes River and the surrounding mountains and forests of Ponderosa Pine, Bend’s 20 or so breweries are legendary in the craft and microbrew scene. In fact, Deschutes Brewery is the eighth-largest craft brewery in the United States.



Bees are big business in this tiny North Dakota town, which is located near the middle of the state. Many of the state’s 350,000 hives are located in and around this town of 15,000 people, according to the American Bee Journal. Throughout the Peace Garden State, hives produce as much as 31 million pounds of honey, often leading the nation in production. The state’s wide-open prairies and low population make for a perfect habitat for bees, National Geographic reported in 2016, though many North Dakota farmers are increasingly converting their land to corn and soybean growing, diminishing the land available for bee production.


Men’s shirts

Thanks to Hong Kong-based The Apparel Group opening a 250,000-square-foot distribution center in Lewisville, one in six men’s shirts in the U.S. came from this town, located just north of Dallas. While the shirts are made in Asia, they’re designed in Lewisville, according to a 2017 Dallas Morning News story. The warehouse itself can hold a quarter-million shirts on hangers. The center opened in Lewisville to be close to the buying and distribution centers of Dillard’s and J.C. Penney, which are located in nearby Fort Worth.



The third-party logistics (3PL) industry did more than $200 billion in revenue in the U.S. in 2018, according to Armstrong & Associates. That figure is double what it was just a decade ago. Rising labor costs, tight shipping capacity and a general need for companies to cut distribution costs are all fueling the growth.

Here are 10 3PLs that are making noteworthy advancements in the world of distribution logistics.

C.H. Robinson

Already one of the largest 3PLs in the world, C. H. Robinson is in the process of acquiring Prime Distribution Services, one of the nation’s leaders in retail consolidation services. “Prime Distribution Services is a high-quality growth company that brings scale and value-added warehouse capabilities to our retail consolidation platform, adding to our global suite of services,” said Bob Biesterfeld, C.H. Robinson CEO, in January. Prime currently operates five distribution centers throughout the U.S., totaling about 2.6 million square feet. With nearly $20 billion in freight under management and 18 million annual shipments, C. H. Robinson earned the top slot in Armstrong & Associates’ Top 50 U.S. 3PLs for 2018.

Holman Logistics

Headquartered in Kent, Washington, Holman opened in Portland back in 1864. Today, it’s one of the leading logistics firms in the Pacific Northwest, though it also manages facilities throughout the nation. The company offers public and contract warehousing (with 7 million square feet of warehousing space), manufacturing logistics, plant support, transportation, collaborative logistics and order-fulfillment services. In terms of distribution, Holman handles both truckload and LTL deliveries, as well as spotting and shuttle services. Some of Holman’s biggest customers are Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Kimberly-Clark, General Electric appliances, Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group, Dole Pineapple, Kerry Foods, Cargill and Morton Salt.

Anchor 3PL

For customers that deal with hazardous materials, logistics can be a tricky, even dangerous proposition. If it’s going the 3PL route for distribution, it’s imperative that it find a company that thoroughly understands the demands of hazmat logistics. While not a large firm, Anchor 3PL operates a 140,000-square-foot warehouse that has 40,000 square feet dedicated to hazmat. Based in Salt Lake City, Anchor regularly deals with chemical and hazmat storage and distribution, works with fire and safety departments, stays on top of the thousands of legal requirements for storing and transporting hazardous materials and maintains relationships with all the regulating authorities.


Even with the Trump Administration’s 2018 tariffs on imported photovoltaic panels, the solar industry is booming. Located in eastern North Carolina, in the heart of domestic solar energy production, Kanban is using its thorough knowledge of the industry and logistics to help customers with warehousing and distribution of solar panels. With a million feet of warehouse space, Kanban was able to both assist customers with high-volume warehousing before the tariffs took effect, and then offer solutions for companies that had to change course once the tariffs started. The company also offers logistics assistance for aerospace, food processing and automotive industries.

Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions

Moving pharmaceuticals around the country requires more than simply a cold chain distributor. In 2011, Cardinal began using a special non-toxic, environmentally friendly insulated tote to keep products between 2°C – 8°C (36°F – 46°F) during shipment. The result keeps the supply chain safe as well as prevents possible spoiled or adulterated products from re-entering the supply chain. For vaccine storage and shipment, Cardinal’s commercial refrigeration units are only calibrated using devices from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It’s no surprise that Cardinal Health moves one out of every six pharmaceutical products in the country.


Since 1997, Cerasis has specialized in less than truckload (LTL) freight management. In fact, close to 95 percent of the company’s business has been in the LTL realm. Not only does this make sense for those wishing to move smaller volumes of freight, but it’s also perfect for e-commerce shipping. Cerasis is based in Minnesota but maintains offices in Oklahoma and Texas. GlobalTranz acquired Cerasis in January 2020. “Combining with GlobalTranz allows us to continue this history while providing our customers with increased service offerings and access to capacity,” said Cerasis President Steve Ludvigson shortly after the acquisition.


Based in Seattle, Expeditors operates 322 locations in more than 100 nations. Though it handles logistics for a variety of industries, Expeditors has considerable experience and expertise in the automotive world. Its customers include both original equipment manufacturers and tier suppliers, and it uses its sprawling global network—which includes more than 25 million square feet of warehouse space—to track items at the part or vehicle identification number level. Expeditors’ distribution services even include light manufacturing, labeling, product localization, inspection and product rework and compliance.

BDP International

Moving oil and gas around the world is complex, even in the realm of international logistics. No shipment is the same, and regulations are often changing. But BDP has long specialized in moving fuel, so it understands pricing, procurement, heavy lift and turn-key rig mobilization. In terms of distribution, the company operates facilities all around the world (including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia), and uses extensive barcode scanning technology to keep track of everything. The company even offers its own BDP Smart Tower application, which allows customers to monitor asset locations, maximize asset utilization and coordinate maintenance and repairs to keep equipment downtime at a minimum.


In 1990, Qualex opened as a dock-to-dock delivery company for Southern California furniture makers. Since then, it’s evolved into a full 3PL firm with tightly integrated warehouse and transportation services, though it still specializes in the furniture industry. For each customer, Qualex sets up an Electronic Data Exchange (EDI), which channels replenishment orders directly into its own Warehouse Management System (WMS), making logistics practically invisible.  Full distribution services include confirmation receipts, the automatic emailing of proof of delivery, inventory status reports, installation job status and even emailed photos of product condition upon delivery.

United Natural Foods, Inc.

Since grocery profit industry margins hover around just 2 percent, outsourcing logistics is practically mandatory. With its 2018 acquisition of Supervalu Advantage Logistics, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) became a leader in grocery industry logistics. In fact, it’s the largest publicly traded grocery distributor in the nation. And its warehouse facilities are cutting edge—some have radiofrequency devices that guide selectors to stock, while others are completely automated, ready to deliver aisle-ready pallets to retail stores. SuperValu also ran all the logistics for four regional warehouses belonging to Krogers, the second-largest grocery chain in the country.



More than 11 million Americans worked in the manufacturing sector in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. These are good jobs, too: T­he average payroll by employee in manufacturing is $57,266. But while manufacturing was the heart of the American economy a century ago, today it’s far more select. Here’s a look at the top 20 cities in the U.S. for advanced manufacturing.

Columbus, Indiana

Columbus is one of the nation’s true powerhouses, with 38 percent of employment dedicated to advanced manufacturing and industry. (That’s compared to 9 percent nationwide). According to the Greater Columbus Indiana Economic Development Corp., Columbus manufacturing is specialized in six industries: machinery and engines, transportation, paper products, fabricated metals, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. It’s no wonder the city is home to the North American R&D centers for Cummins, Faurecia, Toyota Material Handling, Dorel, Enkai, and PMG Indiana. The city is currently working to expand that manufacturing base to include aerospace, cybersecurity, defense, and engineering/R&D services.

Bowling Green, Kentucky

That every Chevrolet Corvette made since 1981 came from Bowling Green ought to tell you something about the city’s manufacturing base. In 2017, about 17 percent of the city’s workforce was in manufacturing (up from 14.4 percent just five years previously), according to USA Today, and they’re responsible for $1.1 billion in exports. The manufacturing base in the city is incredibly diverse, with firms located there making automotive airbag inflators (ARC Automotive), new and used pallets (B&D Pallet), laser marking machines (Beamer Laser Marketing Systems), faucets (Delta Faucets) and paint (Sherwin-Williams).

Lake Charles, Louisiana

There are currently $57 billion worth of manufacturing and petro-chemical projects planned for the Lake Charles metro area, according to a September 2019 article. This translates into 3,000 new jobs for 2020, and another 3,800 new jobs in 2021. Considered an economic power for some time now, the region boasts that about 9 percent of its workforce is in manufacturing, and they produced a little more than $7 billion worth of exports in 2018, according to AdvisorSmith. In per capita terms, that pencils out to more than $33,000, which AdvisorSmith ranked seventh highest in the nation.

San Jose, California

San Jose supports more than 65,000 manufacturing jobs—more than twice the number found in the rest of the Bay Area combined, according to a 2016 report from SFMade. It’s home to one of the nation’s Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, which specializes in Flexible Hybrid Electronics, and is part of a network of manufacturing innovation centers set up by the Obama Administration in 2013. The manufacturing output of San Jose was a remarkable $76 billion in 2018, ranking it sixth on AdvisorSmith’s Top 50 list of cities with strong manufacturing economies.

Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Once known predominantly for agriculture and textiles, this North Carolina city (population: 54,000) is known as a regional manufacturing center that produced more than $6 billion worth of exports in 2018. The engine manufacturer Cummins has a plant there, as does Corning, which makes glass. The city is also home to metal fabricators, industrial packaging makers, and hardware producers. Manufacturing has grown by nearly 12 percent in recent years, according to AdvisorSmith, which also reported that Rocky Mount’s manufacturing totaled more than $42,000 on a per capita basis, making it one of the most dynamic industrial cities in the nation.

Greeley, Colorado

Vestas Blades makes wind turbines. Burris Co. manufactures rifle scopes. Norfolk Iron & Metal produces carbon steel. IES Combustors makes waste gas combustion equipment. Worthington Industries manufactures a wide range of products, including cab enclosures for tractors, industrial components, propane cylinders, and water systems. What all these companies have in common is their location in Greeley, where nearly 13 percent of the labor force is in manufacturing. In 2017, they were responsible for nearly $800 million in exports. To keep the growth steady, Greeley firms are focusing on finding new talent through better apprenticeship programs, benefits packages, and workforce culture, according to a recent article in the Greeley Tribune.

Jackson, Mississippi

It shouldn’t be surprising that 60 percent of the manufacturing sector in Jackson supplies products and services to the automotive market, according to the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. Companies such as Michigan Automotive Compressor, Lomar Machine & Tool Co. and Tenneco form the heart of Jackson industry. But medical device manufacturing is a growing part of the local economy. A big part of why Jackson is able to sustain such industries is the Academy for Manufacturing Careers (AMC), a Department of Labor-certified training program and trade school established in 2005 by the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association. The AMC offers full training for CNC machinists, tool and die makers, machine builders, industrial electricians, and a host of other specialties.

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville has been known as a center for advanced manufacturing since at least 2003 when the Harvard Business Review wrote approvingly of the city’s “visionary leaders,” “hospitable business climate,” “customized training” and “collaboration within the business community.” Those factors are still driving economic development there today, with nearly 60,000 workers (14 percent of the labor force) in Greenville producing $5 billion worth of manufacturing exports, according to USA Today. They work for companies such as Michelin North American (radial tires), GE Power (gas turbines), Bosch Rexroth (fluid pumps), and Confluence Outdoor (boats and boating accessories).

Kokomo, Indiana

This central Indiana city, long a center of automobile manufacturing, is best known today as one of the nation’s top suppliers of automotive transmissions. Not bad for a city that was devastated in the 2008 financial crisis (General Motors, Chrysler, and Delphi all had plants there), but the city has recovered since along with the auto industry itself. Today, nearly 30 percent of the labor market in Kokomo works in manufacturing—up from 25 percent in 2012. According to AdvisorSmith, the city’s manufacturing sector produced $3.7 billion in 2018—which penciled out to nearly $45,000 on a per capita basis.

Sheboygan, Wisconsin

This little city located on Lake Michigan at the head of the Sheboygan River is now a preeminent industrial center, specializing in car parts, furniture, and metal products. In fact, the metals fabrication company Kohler is the area’s largest employer, with more than 5,000 workers, according to the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation. That industry is so big there that the county has six times the national average worth of metal manufacturing and makes 11 times the national average of fabricated metal products. Sheboygan workers produced $3.1 billion worth of manufacturing exports in 2018, according to AdvisorSmith.

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham’s manufacturing output grew more than 10 percent between 2014 and 2018, according to AdvisorSmith. And it’s still growing—a Bellingham Herald article reported in January that Tidal Vision, an established Bellingham operation that converts marine byproducts into eco-friendly items like water treatment, would be expanding, and other manufacturers would soon be growing in the greater Whatcom County area. A huge array of manufactured goods comes from the Bellingham area, including saw blades, high-performance brakes, ultrasonic gel, anchor chain, remanufactured engines, precast concrete, natural pet foods, construction-grade lumber and fiberglass boats, according to the Port of Bellingham.

Lima, Ohio

The manufacturing sector in Lima employs nearly 46,000 people and pays an average salary of more than $67,000 a year, according to TownSquare Publications. Though hurt badly in the 2007 recession, Lima recovered, and today is home to Proctor & Gamble, Ford, and General Dynamics. Lima also hosts the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, the nation’s only factory that still produces tanks for the U.S. military. If anything, the city’s main challenge for the future is attracting a steady stream of new workers. Lima’s manufacturing output per capita was just under $40,000 in 2018, according to AdvisorSmith.

Beaumont, Texas

A century ago, Beaumont translated the riches of the Spindletop oil deposits to become the second-largest refinery in the nation. Today, Beaumont is quickly growing again, but in manufacturing. Employment in machinery manufacturing and electrical equipment manufacturing grew 53 and 45 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2017, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas special report. The city’s largest employers include ENGlobal Corp., ExxonMobil, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Motiva Enterprises and Valero Refining Group. Beaumont’s manufacturing output per capita in 2018 was $36,000, according to AdvisorSmith.

Savannah, Georgia

Manufacturing comprised nearly a quarter of the Savannah area’s economic output in 2017, according to the Savannah Chamber of Commerce. In real terms, that translates to slightly more than 22,000 people working at 346 plants. Growth in manufacturing employment held steady in 2017, 2018, and into 2019. One major employer, Gulfstream Aerospace, employs 11,000 workers for production, maintenance, engineering, research, and development. Another Savannah firm, JCB, has about 600 workers who build light capability, rough terrain forklifts for the Department of Defense. All told, Savannah is responsible for about $2.3 billion in manufacturing exports.

Yuma, Arizona

In 2018, AQST Space Systems Group, which provides strategic planning to space and defense industry in satellites, space systems, artificial intelligence, and robotic, was looking to move its secured manufacturing operation out of Puerto Rico. The company ended up choosing Yuma because of its friendly business environment, infrastructure, turnkey facilities, and support, according to the city of Yuma. This makes sense, given that the city’s manufacturing employment growth rate was second in the nation from 2014 to 2018, according to AdvisorSmith, and 10th in the U.S. in terms of manufacturing output growth.

Palm Bay, Florida

Defense and semiconductors are big business in Palm Bay—so big that the manufacturing industry is growing faster there than in any other Florida city, according to Space Coast Daily. The 2018 AdvisorSmith study reported that manufacturing output per capita in Palm Bay was $7,494, which was about $450 higher than the national average. The Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce says more than 500 manufacturers call Palm Bay and surrounding Brevard County home, including Patriot Fire Defense, Technolink, Inmarsat, and Advanced Magnet Lab. The chamber also boasts that its Made in Brevard program, which highlights the work of local manufacturers, helps encourage further investment.

Bremerton, Washington

Bremerton has been a manufacturing center for more than a century. The workshops, plants, and yards in the city and surrounding Kitsap County build an astonishing variety of products, including office furniture, prosthetic devices, fly fishing rods, LED lighting, unmanned underwater vehicles, patrol boats, schooners, and aircraft carriers, according to the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance. The compound growth rate of manufacturing employment at Bremerton was nearly five percent, according to AdvisorSmith. The Puget Sound Regional Council has also designated Bremerton to be one of eight Manufacturing/Industrial Centers in the region.

Clarksville, Tennessee

Manufacturing labor grew in Clarksville by an incredible 10 percent during 2018, according to a recent study by Kempler Industries. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that in the five years prior to the study, manufacturing employment grew 17 percent, according to USA Today. Data from the Clarksville/Montgomery County Economic Data Center shows the manufacture of automotive parts and industrial machinery have seen especially high rates of growth in recent years—58 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Major employers include Akebono (hubs and rotors), Bridgestone (steel cord), Hendrickson (tractor-trailer air-ride) and Trane (heating and air-conditioning equipment).

Reno, Nevada

The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada says manufacturing is the fastest growing industry in the greater Reno area. In fact, AdvisorSmith recently ranked Reno seventh on its list of America’s 50 strongest manufacturing economies. Reno offers business-friendly regulations, 80 million square feet of affordable industrial space, some of the lowest electricity costs in the Western U.S., and a hard-working, educated labor force. Some of Reno’s biggest manufacturers are Trex (wood-alternative decking), Tyco (security systems), IGT (slot machines), and James Hardie (building materials).

Ogden, Utah

Manufacturing employment grew in Ogden nearly 18 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to USA Today. That means these days the city’s labor force produces $3.2 billion worth of manufacturing exports. Aerospace is a key part of the industry there, especially since the city is just two miles from Hill Air Force Base. ATK, which builds weapons systems for the U.S. military, has an operation in Ogden, as does Parker Hannifin, which makes aircraft hydraulic and control systems. Other manufacturers include Chromalox (heating elements), JBT Aerotech (commercial aircraft boarding bridges), Levelor (window blinds), and Kimberly-Clark (diapers).

freight forwarders


Even domestic shipping can be complicated. That’s why freight forwarders exist—they handle much of the complex paperwork and hassle needed to move cargo across borders. For freight forwarders, some cities are definitely better than others.

To find out the best cities for freight forwarders, we asked Carlo De Atouguia, the chief operating officer of Western Overseas Corporation. For more than four decades, Western Overseas has provided freight forwarding, customs brokerage, warehousing, distribution, cargo insurance, and e-commerce services to small and large companies across the globe.

Atouguia zeroed in on a common theme to come up with the top 20 cities for freight forwarders. “These cities are key because they are integral gateway cities for both ocean and air,” he explains. “I believe it is an advantage having representation in these cities because it allows you to develop a personal business relationship with the major players in all facets of the freight forwarding supply chain in that city. These business relationships are key when negotiating spot rates, late cut-offs, drayage and expedited handling on cargo arrival.

“The other key factor is the sheer number of carriers and cargo flights available in a particular city,” he continues. “The more options you have, the better you’re able to service your customers’ freight forwarding needs.”


Air cargo and mail moving through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been steadily climbing for the past few years, from more than 624,000 metric tons in 2015 to a little over 704,000 metric tons in 2018, according to Statista. Which is why it wasn’t a shock that Georgia’s $40.6 billion worth of exports in 2018 was the highest in that state’s history. In fact, exports in Georgia have grown by 71 percent over the last decade, according to U.S. Census data. It’s no wonder there are more than 20 freight forwarders in the Atlanta area.


In the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore, 15 ship-to-shore gantry cranes move about 900,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) every year, according to 2018 figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s also one of the most diverse ports in the U.S., with the six public marine terminals handling autos, roll-on/roll-off, containers, forest products and project cargo. The 11 million tons of cargo that moved through the port this past year was a new record, and the nearly 2.9 million tons of cargo the port handled in between April and June of 2019 also set a new second quarter record.


The Port of Charleston is ranked ninth in the U.S. in terms of cargo value, according to the South Carolina Ports Authority. That translated into $72.7 billion worth of imports and exports in 2018. The port’s cranes handled 2.2 million TEUs that year. Thirteen of the world’s biggest container companies tie up there. While the port can already accommodate most post-Panamax vessels, efforts are under way to deepen the harbor from 45 to 52 feet. That’s why it wasn’t surprising when the port authority revealed in November 2019 that Charleston had doubled its cargo volume over the last decade.


Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is ranked sixth in the nation and seventh in the world in terms of the number of passengers and volume of cargo handled, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. More than 60 freight forwarders, customs brokers and international service providers use CLT’s Air Cargo Center, which has 570,000 square feet of available space and 2.2 million square feet of aircraft ramp space. The CLT also links to the Norfolk Southern and CSX rail lines. It processed 128,000 tons of cargo in 2015.


Since the 19th century, Chicago has been a railway and ocean hub for commerce. Even today, a quarter of all rail freight in the U.S. passes through the Chicago rail yards. (It’s also the only gateway in the U.S. where six of the seven major railroads can interchange traffic.) An amazing 30 percent of all consumers in North America live within a one-day truck ride from Chicago. But in terms of cargo value, the Windy City is the top international air gateway in the U.S., with about 2 million metric tons of cargo moving through O’Hare International Airport every year, all worth more than $200 billion, according to Chicago’s Department of Aviation.


Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), which provides non-stop service to 38 of the top 40 U.S. markets, moved 1.2 million tons of cargo in 2018 and is the eighth largest cargo airport in the U.S., according to the CVG airport authority. For the past three years, it’s been the fastest-growing cargo airport in the U.S. It’s also the location for one of DHL’s three “global super hubs,” from which it serves 220 nations. Amazon also has plans to build a $1.5 billion hub at CVG, which will support more than 100 Prime Air freighters.


Because many of the warehouses and distribution centers that stand between international suppliers of goods like China and retail outlets are located in Texas, Dallas is perfectly located to serve as a freight hub for the rest of the nation, according to a 2018 FreightWaves e-newsletter article. Indeed, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport considers itself “the nexus of Latin America-Asia transit freight.” More than 900,000 tons of cargo moved through the airport in fiscal year 2018. According to the DFW Airport Authority, 55 percent of it was domestic and 45 percent was international.


The Port of Houston is one of the most heavily used water gateways in the country. According to the port authority, in 2017 it ranked first in the nation in terms of foreign waterborne tonnage (173 million short tons), second in total foreign and domestic waterborne tonnage (260 million short tons) and third in overall value of foreign cargo. It’s also the largest Gulf Coast container port, handling nearly 70 percent of all container traffic in that region. A little more than a million containers (imports and exports) moved through the port in 2001; today, that number stands at nearly 2.5 million.


Long Beach has one of the busiest seaports in the world. The Port of Long Beach says its 68 Post-Panamax gantry cranes move around 7.5 million TEUs every year, all valued at close to $200 billion. That translates into 82.3 million metric tons of cargo moved in/out on more than 2,000 vessel calls. It’s the second busiest port in the U.S., and the 21st busiest container cargo port in the world. All told, the port accounts for a third of loaded containers moving through all California ports. About 90 percent of the shipments moving through the port are part of trade with East Asia.


Let’s start with the fact that the Port of Los Angeles has been the top container port in the U.S. since 2000. In 2018, its 83 gantry cranes handled 9.5 million TEUs—the highest number ever moved by a port in the western hemisphere—making it one of the busiest ports in the world. Then there’s Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fourth busiest, which handled nearly 2.5 million tons of cargo in 2018. According to Los Angeles World Airports, FedEx is the dominant airfreight carrier at LAX, carrying nearly 16 percent of the freight that moves through the airport.


Situated on the Ohio River, Louisville is well placed to handle all sorts of cargo traffic. In fact, Jefferson Riverport is one of the few inland ports in the U.S. that connects to three railroads: CSX, Norfolk Southern and Paducah & Louisville. The city is also, as the State of Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development is fond of pointing out, about a day’s truck drive away from 65 percent of the U.S. population. What’s more, Louisville International Airport is home to the UPS shipping hub—the world’s largest fully automated package-handling facility. One hundred thirty aircraft move through it each day, and it processes a remarkable 1.5 million packages daily.


In 2018, Miami International Airport ranked fourth in the nation in terms of both total cargo and total freight, and No. 1 in international freight, according to the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. That year, 2.31 million tons of freight moved through the airport, nearly three percent higher than the previous year. At the same time, a thousand cargo ships docked at the Port of Miami—the East Coast’s closest deepwater container port to the Panama Canal—carrying 1.1 million TEUs worth around $27 billion. Nearly half the TEU imports to Miami came from Asia, while 70 percent of the exports went to Latin America, according to the Miami Port Authority.


Primarily due to FedEx, Memphis International Airport is the top international gateway in the U.S. by weight and the No. 2 cargo airport in the world. In 2016, 11.9 million short tons of cargo moved through the airport, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. FedEx accounts for a reported 99 percent of the cargo moving through Memphis International Airport, which carries out 450 combined arrivals and departures every day. Memphis is also home to the fifth largest inland port in the U.S., which is very close to the airport and lies at the juncture of major north-south and east-west interstate highways, as well as that of five major railroads.


The only container port in Louisiana, the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) has six gantry cranes that can handle 840,000 TEUs a year. Containers make up about 60 percent of the cargo handled at the port, according to the Port NOLA authority. The port also ties into the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, offering daily intermodal service to Memphis, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal. Regular container-on-barge service also connects the port to Memphis and Baton Rouge.


The Port of New York and New Jersey handled 41.3 million metric tons of general cargo worth more than $188 billion in 2018, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Put another way, the port handled 52 percent of all the unloaded and loaded TEUs on the North Atlantic. Add this to the 1.4 million tons of cargo that moved through JFK International Airport in 2018, and you can see why New York City holds such importance in the world of freight.


Situated two and a half hours from the open sea, the Port of Norfolk’s 22 Suez-class cranes moved 2.7 million TEUs in 2017, according to the port authority. It’s also so rail-friendly, with two class 1 railroads operating on-dock, that 37 percent of all cargo moving in and out of the port comes by rail—the largest percentage of any East Coast port. Norfolk International Airport also operates one of the most efficient cargo operations in Virginia, moving 30,000 tons of air cargo every year. FedEx, Mountain Air and UPS all use Norfolk International extensively.


For Philadelphia, location is everything. The city is about a day’s drive from nearly half the nation’s population, as well as six of the eight largest U.S. markets. There are also 400 distribution centers located within Philadelphia’s immediate vicinity. PhilaPort can handle cargo carriers holding 12,200 TEUs. The CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads both serve the port. In 2016, Philadelphia International Airport handled about 427,000 tons of cargo, and is home to nearly 40 freight forwarders. The airport sits next to I-95, which runs from Maine to Florida, and is close to both the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New Jersey Turnpike.


The Port of Portland, the largest in Oregon, handles about 11 million tons of cargo every year, according to the port authority. The port can move containers, autos, breakbulk and drybulk. There are on-dock rail connections throughout the port, and BNSF Railway ties the container terminal directly to Seattle/Tacoma. Portland International Airport, located 12 miles from downtown Portland, is centered in the Columbia River Industrial Corridor. Eight cargo carriers use PDX, including UPS, FedEx and DHL. There are 47 freight forwarders serving the Portland area.


About 488,000 tons of cargo moved through San Francisco International Airport in 2018. Nine cargo carriers operate out of the airport, serving destinations all over the world. Additionally, the Port of San Francisco’s five deepwater berths can accommodate a wide variety of container and bulk carriers. In all, 1.4 million tons of cargo moved through the port in 2017, according to the San Francisco Port Authority.


The Port of Savannah bills itself as the largest single container terminal in North America, and it is the second-largest container exporter in the U.S. (13.3 million tons). Two class 1 railroads serve its nine deepwater berths, which operate 27 container cranes. In 2018, the port handled 4.4 million TEUs, a new record for the port. Its major satellite facilities include warehouses and distribution centers for Target, IKEA and Heineken USA. Savannah Hilton Head International Airport handled a further 8,600 tons of cargo during 2018.



Ports are “crucial to the economy,” Texas economist Ray Perryman wrote in 2017. “Ports generate substantial business activity through their operations, but those benefits are dwarfed by the huge importance of water transportation to other industries.” In this survey of 20 U.S. port cities, we look at various engines of economic development and see how they tie into the seaport.


Since 2009, the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council (EDC) has acted as the is the lead designated economic development agency for Hillsborough County as well as the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace. The EDC offers a variety of incentives (infrastructure, workforce training, targeted industry and special opportunities) and tax breaks for companies that create high-wage jobs in high-value industries. Companies can also apply for workforce training grants and tax exemption programs. In addition, the Tampa Bay EDC also aids those wishing to take advantage of real estate opportunities at Port Tampa Bay (the largest deepwater port in the state), Port Redwing and Port Ybor.


The Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) serves as the administrator of that city’s Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). The FTZ offers duty-free treatment for companies importing and exporting goods, and it saw nearly $20 billion worth of shipments in 2017. Much of that passed through the Port of Baltimore, which is one of the 10 busiest in the nation. According to the BDC, “With merchandise such as cars, paper and steel, 2017 saw the total FTZ international revenue rise from $44 million in 2016, to more than $396 million in 2017.” The BDC also provides a number of programs for entrepreneurs, small businesses and tax credits for supermarkets willing to open or renovate in targeted areas of the city.


Matagorda County’s two shallow draft ports—Port of Bay City and Port of Balacios—are part of what makes the area’s location so desirable, according to the Matagorda County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). Both ports have nearby parcels available for long-term lease and development. Those wishing to do so may qualify for a host of incentives offered by the Matagorda County EDC, including tax abatements, an industrial revenue bond program, the Texas Enterprise fund for job creation, permit assistance, special discretionary loans, sales and use tax exemptions and various other training and capital funds.


Starting in 2019, the Port of Hueneme began a partnership with the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative (EDC), Matter Labs and Naval Base Ventura County known as MAST (Maritime Advanced Systems & Technology). MAST is a laboratory at the port to incubate new technology and attract venture capital. “By leveraging the unique geographic, operational and environmental assets located at the Port of Hueneme, MAST invites entrepreneurs with an optimized solution a surrounding for sustained research, experimentation and test programs,” port officials say. This fits in perfectly with the EDC’s mission of promoting job growth through start-up assistance, special financing packages and workforce training programs.


The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) provides a dizzying array of tax incentives to companies wishing to locate or expand in Savannah. The organization’s Business Retention Action Team (BRAT) also offers workforce training, assistance on decreasing energy use, logistics and engineering information and even free pre-OSHA audits. Because the need for warehousing space to accommodate the ever-growing Port of Savannah was consuming so much land, in 2019 SEDA developed the 719-acre Savannah Manufacturing Center. To attract tech firms, the project includes a host of county and city tax exemptions, according to an Oct. 23, 2019, story in Worth.


Created in 2011, the Economic and Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis and Shelby County coordinates public resources and incentives for economic growth in those municipalities. EDGE manages Foreign Trade Zone 77, provides special business loans and tax incentives and also manages the Memphis Port Commission, which oversees the Port of Memphis. In November 2017, EDGE approved a $327,500 contract to develop a master plan for the port. Produced nearly a year later, that plan calls far a variety of infrastructure upgrades to ensure that the port will still be in use 20 to 50 years from now.


The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance has long sought to strengthen and diversify that city’s economy through services and incentives aimed at helping companies expand or relocate there. The organization helps with business location, market research and workforce training. GFLA also supports various international trade initiatives, in hopes of increasing imports and exports in Fort Lauderdale. Port Everglades, which plays a key role in global trade initiatives and is the preeminent seaport in Florida in terms of revenue, was responsible for $34 billion in economic activity in 2018, according to the port authority.


“We are New Yorkers, working for New Yorkers,” say the officials who run the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC). The NYCEDC prides itself on helping to grow and help companies become more sustainable. In 2015, the NYCEDC took a big step in doing this by signing a lease agreement with the City of New York to develop the old South Brooklyn Marine Terminal at Port NYC. Three years later, in May 2018, NYCEDC announced that their new Sustainable South Brooklyn Marine Terminal would serve as a new and major shipping hub that would create 250 near-term jobs, expand future growth and job creation and eliminate the need for 11,000 truck trips every year.


The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest seaport in the western hemisphere. As such, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) provides a number of services to ensure that the port—and those companies and workers who rely on it—continues to grow. It publishes a variety of reports each year on the city’s international trade outlook, assists companies in finding international trade opportunities, brings international investment into LA through its World Trade Center Los Angeles affiliate and helps ensure low-interest financing is available for projects.


Since 1956, Wilmington Business Development (WBD) has worked to bring more companies to the region. It does this through market research, partnership development and technical assistance. There’s no better example of this than WBD’s recent partnership with Chesterfield LLC and the Port of Wilmington to construct a 425,000-square-foot, build-to-suit facility at the port, which will handle both imports and exports. As a marketing partner in the venture, WBD will promote the project and attract tenants.


Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the John H. Chafee Center for International Business, the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. (RICC) assists Providence companies in entering export markets. This allows companies to join trade missions, learn how to market themselves internationally and get specialized training. Though the Port of Providence (ProvPort) is relatively small, it has been a commercial seaport since the 1600s, which is why RICC partnered with the port in 2017 to implement a bond measure that would expand the port’s size and influence.


For the past three decades, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) has worked to help companies grow in the state, and compete throughout the world. It offers assistance for start-ups on obtaining special credits, help with the various free trade zones around the state and information on the AlabamaSAVES loan program to make it easy to get energy efficient. EDPA also provides help for those companies wishing to compete globally—which is made vastly easier by the Port of Mobile, which is responsible for more than 134,000 jobs and more than $22 billion in economic impact.


The Port of New Orleans plays an outsized role in that region’s economic growth. It supports nearly 120,000 jobs and almost $30 billion in revenue, according to an April 15, 2019, article in Biz New Orleans. Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO), which has long assisted companies in the region that wish to grow or compete internationally, recognizes that New Orleans’ growth simply couldn’t happen without the port. “In recent years, the Port of New Orleans has emerged as not only a record-breaking cargo and cruise facility, but remains an economic development powerhouse,” said GNO President Michael Hecht in the Biz New Orleans article. “Thanks to the Port’s leadership and partnership, New Orleans is well on its way to reclaiming its economic and maritime preeminence.”


The East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has been assisting the Port of Oakland (which today handles 99 percent of the containerized goods that move through Northern California) to grow for the past three decades. The EDA supported the port’s need to dredge the harbor in 1991 and again in 2009, meeting with conservationists, shipping interests and others to build a consensus. In 2003, the EDA also met with stakeholders to resolve the transportation impacts created by the port’s growth. The result was a recommendation to move the transportation and distribution facilities that support the port.


The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has long assisted both domestic and international firms wishing to invest in the Norfolk area. The EDA provides all manner of services and assistance in finding a location, banking, obtaining permits, staffing and auditing. The EDA can also provide help for those companies wishing to take advantage of the three lucrative tax incentives offered by the State of Virginia to firms that use the Port of Norfolk: the Port Volume Increase Tax Credit, Barge and Rail Use Tax Credit and International Trade Facility Tax Credit.


Since 1992, companies wishing to locate or expand in Brownsville have been able to call upon the services of the Brownsville Economic Development Corp. (BEDC). The BEDC offers qualifying firms job creation incentives that range from $2,000 to $10,000 per each job created. Bringing together business leaders, location consulting and permit assistance are some of the other services the BEDC offers to companies in Brownsville. Critical to the city is the Port of Brownsville, the only deepwater port on the U.S./Mexico border, which the port authority said was responsible for $3 billion in economic activity in 2018.


The Economic Development Council (EDC) of South Miami-Dade formed in 1993, following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew. In addition to assisting companies in moving to Miami or expanding their current location, the EDC provides firms with market information as well as assistance in qualifying for tax incentives. Another key role of the EDC is focusing on “the betterment of any deficiency in the regional infrastructure which is a hindrance to economic vitality.” PortMiami, one of the most important elements in the Miami economy, impacts more than 334,000 jobs and supports about $43 billion in overall economic activity.


Job creation in Northeast Ohio has been at the forefront of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) since its founding in 2004. The organization advocates for Cleveland businesses, while also providing them with vital assistance in getting access to capital, securing tax incentives and finding and retaining staff. In 2018, the GCP helped local companies create nearly 2,000 jobs, while retaining more than 12,000. The Port of Cleveland, which is the hub of about $3.5 billion in economic activity for the region, supports nearly 20,000 jobs.


The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) has leveraged more than $25 billion in investment and helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs since its founding in 1958. It manages commercial and industrial real estate, delivers grant funding for development projects, provides resources for companies located in underserved, low-income parts of the city and sponsors investment opportunities in projects that qualify for the U.S. Immigration Investor Program. PhilaPort has been central to the growth of Philadelphia, returning more than $70 million in revenue to the city and providing more than 10,000 jobs.


It’s remarkable just how much the STL Partnership accomplishes in the name of economic development. The organization manages opportunity zones to encourage urban investment, provides workforce development, helps companies engage on the global market, provides tax incentives and loan assistance, runs innovation centers for startups and assists companies with site selection. The STL Partnership and the St. Louis County Port Authority have been partners since the Mississippi River flood of 1993. Then, they joined to develop the Lemay Comprehensive Plan, which helped redevelop the old National Lead site and establish a community reinvestment fund.