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KC SmartPort Shares Leading Differentiators for its Ecommerce Surge

KC SmartPort

KC SmartPort Shares Leading Differentiators for its Ecommerce Surge

Known as the “hub for food logistics” in the Midwest, the Kansas City region boasts a unique approach to economic development. KC SmartPort – a nonprofit economic development organization – focuses on attracting freight-based businesses to the region through its streamlined efforts in workforce development, real estate opportunities, and thriving logistics-focused operations. The Kansas City region recently reported substantial growth in ecommerce and distribution companies establishing operations in the area with these companies planning to invest $1.3 billion and aiming for the creation of seven thousand jobs. KC SmartPort president Chris Gutierrez and his team attended the Dallas RILA/LINK 2020 conference as exhibitors and shared the latest and greatest developments emerging in the Kansas City region.

“With online sales increasing every year, companies have really been focusing on their omnichannel strategy. The Kansas City region is centrally located and offers a robust transportation infrastructure from road, air, rail and water, ultimately supporting the ability for businesses to reach 88-90 percent of the population in about two days. This really lends itself as a successful strategy around ecommerce,” said Chris Gutierrez, president of KC SmartPort.

“Since 2012, we’ve had over 40 million square feet of industrial buildings built primarily on spec because the ecommerce companies will go through a peak season and if they hit their numbers, they need to be in the next building within a certain time frame to hit next year’s peak. If they don’t have a building to move into, then the opportunity is lost. That’s something our region has been very successful in supporting,” he added.

Among big-name ecommerce and distribution companies that made the move to the Kansas City region in 2019 include Wal-Mart, Hostess, Amazon, CVS Pharmacy, Overstock.com, Tool Source Warehouse, and more. Part of this surge in ecommerce, automotive, and retailers is dually supported by the region’s balancing of business and workforce development efforts.

“What we are doing locally is a three-step process. First, we create an awareness buzz at the elementary and high schools and community colleges around supply chain jobs that serve as career opportunities with great benefits and growth options rather than just filling a position. The second part of local efforts involves public transportation, rideshare, and other mobility solutions to support getting the employee to the job site.”

“The third leg of this approach is encouraging employers to critically think about workplace culture. We take it a step further and educate employers of the importance of the first week during onboarding, eliminating the desire to go to the next company offering a quarter more in pay but offering a potentially more satisfying culture. If the company offers a healthy culture, it makes a huge difference, specifically with non-tangible things that add value to the employee experience.”

These multi-layered efforts not only support the existing workforce and growth in economic development but serve as proactive solutions for future workforce generations in Kansas City. More than 2.3 million people in the region rely on the unique economic development team covering both Kansas and Missouri. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) serves as a bi-state authority covering a broader regional area while addressing large-scale concerns. This partnership serves as a major differentiator in the region for businesses seeking a myriad of options in amenities, incentives, and transportation.

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Chris Gutierrez is the President of KC SmartPort, Inc., a KCADC affiliate organization focused on attracting freight based economic development to the greater Kansas City region and providing thought leadership to the supply chain industry in Kansas City. Chris has been active in economic development and logistics for over 30 years. He joined KC SmartPort in 2003.

blockchain

SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED GLOBAL TRADERS ARE BANKING ON BLOCKCHAIN

This is the second in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

Give Me Some Credit

Every business requires capital to operate. To sell products to customers overseas, many companies also need trade financing and insurance from third-party lenders. About 80 percent of all global trade is transacted through third-party lenders and cargo insurers, but the process is complex, can be costly and many banks find it too risky to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Blockchain has the potential to increase transparency, speed and accuracy in assessing risk across the trade finance process, which in turn could expand the supply of credit available for international trade transactions – good news especially for SMEs that face significant hurdles accessing credit. Here’s how.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

Buyers who import goods from sellers in other countries generally want to pay upon receiving the merchandise so they can verify its physical integrity on arrival. Exporters, on the other hand, generally prefer to be paid as soon as they ship the goods. Trade finance can bridge this gap.

Exporters and importers engage third-party lenders and insurers who will guarantee payments on the basis of collateral and indemnify the exporter, importer and related parties in the event that the merchandise is damaged, stolen or lost while in transit. In this way, trade finance provides the credit, payment guarantee and insurance needed to facilitate an international trade transaction on terms that will satisfy all parties.

80% of trade relies on finance

Steps on the Trade Journey

Intermediaries such as freight forwarders typically manage the physical journey of merchandise, from the original producer to the border, across the border (maybe several borders), and to the final buyer.

Each step must be verified: when was the merchandise transported from the factory or farm to a warehouse, when was it moved from the warehouse to a container, when was the container loaded onto a ship, when did the ship get underway, when was the container unloaded from the ship at port, and when was the merchandise transported from the port to the end consumer.

Different trade finance instruments, such as lending, letters of credit, factoring and cargo insurance cover legs of the journey. A letter of credit is a guarantee from a bank that a buyer’s payment will be received and be on time or else the bank will take responsibility for the payment. Factoring is accounts receivable financing to accelerate cash flow. Cargo insurance insures the merchandise while en route.

Without Finance, Trade Would Sink

The World Trade Organization estimates that 80 percent of global trade relies on trade finance or credit insurance. The global trade finance sector (i.e., the global volume of letters of credit) is worth roughly $2.8 trillion. Demand for trade financing exceeds availability, resulting in the underutilization of existing capital. According to the Asian Development Bank, the global trade finance gap — the difference between the demand for and supply of trade finance — has reached $1.6 trillion.

SMEs Face a 50 Percent Rejection Rate

The shortfall in supply reflects the complex and risky nature of trade finance which often involves multiple parties. Before banks will issue letters of credit in trade finance, they require potential customers to present a solid credit history and a strong balance sheet, conditions that tend to favor larger institutions.

SMEs typically experience more difficulty navigating the trade finance process and dealing with the cost and complexity of banking regulations than larger companies. In 2014, SMEs had trade finance requests before financial institutions rejected at a rate of over 50 percent. In comparison, the rejection rate for multinational corporations was only seven percent.

Links in the Trade Finance Chain

According to the United Nations, there are typically eight major steps required to obtain a letter of credit, although in practice the Credit Research Foundation lists more than twenty. Each step of the process is dependent on the previous steps, and some steps involve sending the same document back and forth for verification purposes. The administrative burden is greater for SMEs than for large firms.

survey of 2,350 SMEs and 850 large firms conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2010 showed that lack of access to credit is the major constraint for SME manufacturing firms seeking to export or expand into new markets and it is one of the top three constraints for SME services firms.

rate of rejection for trade finance

How Blockchain Can Help Ease Trade Finance

Requirements to authenticate each transaction in the trade finance and insurance process can engender large amounts of paperwork and cause delays at each step. Every handoff must be approved and verified.

Instead, blockchain uses digital tokens that are issued by each participant in the supply chain to authenticate the movement of goods. Every time the item changes hands, the token moves in lockstep. The real-world chain of custody is mirrored by a chain of transactions recorded in the blockchain.

The token acts as a virtual “certificate of authenticity” that is much harder to steal, forge or hack than a piece of paper, barcode or digital file. The records can be trusted and greatly improve the information available to assure supply-chain quality.

Using blockchain as a digital ledger for these handoffs would allow involved parties to instantly track and receive secure information about the traded goods. Parties can monitor the entire shipping process and verify the completion of each step in real time. This increased transparency and ease of monitoring reduces the risk that a borrower presents to a potential lender or insurer.

Banking on Blockchain

A number of financial institutions are piloting the use of blockchain-enabled trade finance platforms.

Bank of America, HSBC, and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore collaborated in 2016 to develop a trade finance application designed “to streamline the manual processing of import/export documentation, improve security by reducing errors, increase convenience for all parties through mobile interaction, and make companies’ working capital more predictable.” Using the application, each action in the workflow is captured in a distributed ledger and all parties (the exporter, the importer, and their respective banks) can visualize data in real time, offering transparency to authorized participants while ensuring confidential data is protected through encryption.

Barclays used blockchain in 2017 to issue letter of credit that reportedly guaranteed the export of $100,000 worth of agricultural products from Irish cooperative Ornua to the Seychelles Trading Company, noting the parties were able to execute a deal in four hours that would usually take up to 10 days to complete.

A group of European banks launched a trade finance blockchain platform in July 2018, initially focused on facilitating small and medium-sized businesses trading within Europe. In September 2018, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced plans to launch a trade finance blockchain platform. Twenty-one banks are participating in the platform, including large institutions such as HSBC and Standard Chartered. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is also reportedly working with its counterpart in Singapore to develop a blockchain-based trade finance network to settle cross-border transactions.

Lessons for Trade Policymakers

As the trade finance industry begins to utilize blockchain technology, there are some potential implications worthy of policymakers’ attention.

First, the large number of intermediaries and corresponding administrative costs in trade finance tend to fall particularly hard on SMEs and the relatively higher cost of each transaction makes SME financing less attractive to banks. If blockchain can reduce the costs of trade finance, more small and medium-sized businesses could trade globally.

Second, although blockchain technology does not alter the fundamental credit risk of borrowers, the increased transparency and access to information it delivers could improve the accuracy of banks’ risk assessments. If perceived risk is greater than actual risk, a nontrivial number of loan applications may be denied even though those loans have the potential to be successful. If blockchain brings greater confidence and issuance of good loans — that is, those that are paid back — the transactions they support would bring value to the economy.

In these important ways, blockchain can increase transparency across the trade finance process and decrease risk for all parties, in turn expanding the supply of credit available for international trade transactions.

ChristineMcDaniel

 

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.