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20 FOR 2020: THE TOP 20 CITIES FOR FREIGHT FORWARDERS

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20 FOR 2020: THE TOP 20 CITIES FOR 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.”

ATLANTA, GEORGIA

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.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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.

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

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, NORTH CAROLINA

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.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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, OHIO

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.

DALLAS, TEXAS

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.

HOUSTON, TEXAS

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, CALIFORNIA

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.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

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.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

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.

MIAMI, FLORIDA

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.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

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.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

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.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

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.

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

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.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

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.

PORTLAND, OREGON

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.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

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.

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

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.

port

PORT CITY REVIEW: THESE 20 SEAPORT COMMUNITIES HELP DRIVE THE U.S. ECONOMY

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.

TAMPA, FLORIDA

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.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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, TEXAS

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.

VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

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.

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

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.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

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.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

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.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

“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.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

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.

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

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.

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

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.

MOBILE, ALABAMA

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.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

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.”

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

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.

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

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.

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS

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.

MIAMI, FLORIDA

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.

CLEVELAND, OHIO

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.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

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.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

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.