Special Economic Development Supplement Great Logistics Sites: You’re Welcome

A visit to five U.S. locations that are creating inviting environments for companies striving to achieve logistics excellence.

Despite the tough economic climate, the logistics, distribution, and transportation sector remains an industrial bright spot for many U.S. regions. Goods still need to be imported, exported, stored, and distributed—and the business of doing that continues to be good business. As a result, local and regional governments and economic development organizations have rolled out the welcome mat for companies involved in logistics, distribution, and transportation.

Though each location offers different, distinct advantages, the building blocks of a great logistics site are often the same: prime location, an abundance of industrial facilities, easy access to multiple transportation modes, the right workforce, and tax credits and incentives. Here is a closer look at five regions that offer the right combination to help companies achieve logistics greatness.

Rockingham County, North Carolina: Logistics Pulls Up a Chair

Though the collapse of North Carolina’s textile and furniture industries left a hole in the state’s economy, it also left behind an experienced workforce and a number of well-equipped buildings ripe for repositioning. In Rockingham County—a rural area north of Greensboro, N.C., and part of the Piedmont Triad region—many of those buildings now house transportation, logistics, and distribution companies. One example is Service Logistics, which successfully converted a former furniture factory in Stoneville, N.C., into a multi-purpose 3PL location.

The region’s workforce, affordable wages, and status as a right-to-work state have also been a draw for large companies. “Companies in a variety of industries—including Miller Brewing, Ball Corporation, Bridgestone Aircraft Tire, and several tobacco companies—have found what they need in Rockingham County,” says Graham Pervier, president of Rockingham County Partnership, the area’s economic development group.

Rockingham County’s position near the newly opened FedEx hub at the Piedmont Triad International Airport is another key attraction for logistics-minded companies. The new facility adds to FedEx’s existing ground hub at the airport and provides area businesses a key link to crucial freight transportation capabilities. Highway improvements currently underway will make it possible for businesses to get to the airport in less than one hour from many points in Rockingham County.

The county also offers the logistics sector an ideal Mid-Atlantic location close to the urban areas of Atlanta; Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and the Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C./Richmond, Va., region, notes Pervier. Completing Rockingham County’s full roster of transportation capabilities is rail access through Norfolk Southern, and an easy drive to the North Carolina ports of Wilmington and Morehead City, as well as the Port of Norfolk and the Port of Charleston.

Joplin, Missouri: Midwestern Locale, National Reach

“Companies looking for regional reach and the ability to serve multiple metro areas from a single location are very well-positioned in Joplin,” says Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. The metro areas of Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, and St. Louis, for instance, are all a half-day drive from Joplin; while Dallas, Memphis, Omaha, and Chicago are within a full day’s drive.

These trips are made possible by Joplin’s proximity to major highways including Interstates 40 and 44, and the abundance of trucking companies that maintain operations in the area. “The transportation industry in Joplin makes up about eight percent of total employment or about 6,400 people,” O’Brian notes. One of the most well-known local trucking companies is Con-way Truckload, which employs some 2,000 workers in the Joplin area.

Another draw for companies considering Joplin as a transportation/distribution hub is the 670-acre Crossroads Business and Distribution Park near the intersection of I-44 and U.S. Highway 71. The park offers full city utilities and an enhanced enterprise zone, and will soon undergo $5 million in road infrastructure improvements. Snack-food company Frito-Lay recently chose Crossroads as the site of a route service center for delivering products to stores.

Other large companies have also opted to locate distribution facilities in Joplin. Jarden Consumer Solutions, the parent company of Sunbeam and other appliance brands, maintains a 400,000-square-foot operation in Joplin; while cereal giant General Mills uses its Joplin facility as a dough processing, production, and distribution hub for midwestern customers.

Georgia: Logistics Business is Just Peachy

With the world’s busiest airport, the nation’s fourth-largest seaport, and the third-best transportation infrastructure in the country, it is no surprise that Georgia considers logistics a strategic industry. The state formed the Center of Innovation for Logistics (COI) to help attract and expand businesses within the logistics, transportation, and distribution sector. The Center also helps companies connect to industry leaders and logistics technology providers, explains Page Siplon, COI Logistics’ executive director.

“Georgia has one of the best stories to tell for logistics and transportation companies,” adds Siplon. “Delta, UPS, Manhattan Associates, and Saia, for example, all decided to base their operations in Georgia.”

In addition, the state’s Mid-Atlantic location and top-notch transportation assets have attracted retailers such as Target, IKEA, and Home Depot, which maintain distribution facilities there. Small businesses have also found a home in The Peach State, with nearly 10,000 companies comprising the state’s logistics sector.

Among Georgia’s transportation assets is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is the busiest passenger airport in the world and ranks 11th in the country for airfreight volume, handling more than 700,000 tons annually. The airport offers Georgia businesses access to 80 percent of the U.S. market within two hours’ flight time. Georgia also boasts The Port of Savannah, which has emerged as the fastest-growing containerport in the United States.

Companies in the logistics sector are also attracted to Georgia because of its relatively low operating costs. “Land is reasonably priced, taxes are favorable, and incentives are abundant,” notes Siplon.

New Jersey: Top Transport Options, Top Workers

As home to more than 23,000 transportation, logistics, and distribution establishments, it is no surprise that Expansion Magazine recently ranked New Jersey first in the United States for transportation, warehousing, and highway connectivity. Backing up that ranking are the state’s 35,000 miles of interconnected roadways; a three-airport network—Newark, John F. Kennedy International, and LaGuardia—that handles nearly 25 percent of all U.S. international air cargo; and the Port of New York and New Jersey, which is the largest port complex on the eastern seaboard and is responsible for more than $100 billion in trade.

In addition, New Jersey’s ports and freight industry support approximately 500,000 jobs, helping more than 620 million tons of freight move into, through, and out of New Jersey each year, notes Glenn J. Phillips, public affairs officer for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

“We also have a talented workforce that makes New Jersey a leader in innovation, research, and development, and a location in the heart of one of the world’s largest workplaces between New York City and Philadelphia,” Phillips adds. These attributes, along with the ability to reach some 60 million consumers within a four-hour drive, have lured major companies such as Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us, and Home Depot, which all maintain warehousing and distribution facilities in New Jersey.

New Jersey also hosts a wide range of logistics companies including UPS, New Century Transportation, Port Jersey Logistics, and National Retail Systems. Its industries range from food processing and medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing to oil, chemical, and steel production.

New Jersey’s educational institutions work closely with the business community to ensure that these industries are staffed with qualified workers, notes Phillips. Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology both offer MBAs with a logistics concentration, while several community colleges provide programs to earn certificates in logistics and/or supply management, resulting in a broad pool of educated logistics workers.

Toledo, Ohio: Small-Town Vibe Meets Big-City Assets

Combining a small-community environment with access to major markets has helped Toledo, Ohio, land at the top of many site selectors’ lists. The Toledo metro area—which encompasses 18 counties in northwest Ohio and three counties in southeast Michigan and comprises nearly one million people—boasts superior highway access thanks to its location near Interstates 80 and 90 and U.S. Highway 75.

It also offers shipping access on the Great Lakes Waterway and ample air cargo capabilities at Toledo Express Airport, which houses a Schenker/BAX Global hub with nightly service to major North American markets, plus twice-weekly service to Frankfurt, Germany and Dubai, UAE; and weekly service to Sydney, Australia.

“Toledo offers the infrastructure of a big metropolitan region without the political challenges,” says Steve Weathers, CEO of Regional Growth Partnership (RGP), an area economic development company. “If a company wants to build a 500,000-square-foot facility here, we will bend over backwards to accommodate it. That might not happen in a larger city.”

One way RGP bends over backwards is by operating its own venture capital (VC) fund, which allows it to invest in certain economic development deals. “The VC fund lets us put our money where our mouth is,” notes Weathers.

Businesses are also drawn to the Toledo area’s abundant open space for development. Available acreage exists for airfreight distribution centers at Toledo Express Airport; deepwater sites for heavy industry at the Port of Toledo; and manufacturing or distribution center sites at the intersection of I-80, I-90, and U.S. 75. This available land has helped attract the solar industry—Toledo is now one of the country’s most active regions for photovoltaic research and solar panel manufacturing. The automotive industry has also found Toledo ideal for distribution activity, investing more there than in any other U.S. location since 2000.

Other companies making a logistics home in Toledo include Walgreen’s, Home Depot, Cardinal Health, UPS, and FedEx.

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