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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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, Cleveland.com reported. Around the same time, Amazon also announced plans to start using two other smaller warehouses in the Cleveland area.
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 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.