Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

U.S. Seaport Outlook 2012

Exports: An untapped opportunity for industrial real estate?

An untapped opportunity for industrial real estate?
Until recently, real estate interests addressing the growth of global containerized shipping in the United States were predominantly focused on development solutions catering to import traffic. Containers would arrive at major seaports, get stacked onto rail or drayed to a transload location for movement by truck, and many would eventually be moved to the center of the country and emptied. This has resulted in a growing issue within the maritime industry as to how to handle the concentration of empty ocean containers, countless numbers of which end up hundreds of miles from the waterfront, only to be returned empty.

Greater profitability for developers, investors and communities
The increased attention on exporting of U.S. goods can and will provide a timely opportunity to change this dynamic. For developers, investors and communities able to address the exporting of U.S. cargo, they will find greater ability to attract traditional distribution centers and third party logistics users to their projects, as inbound cargo containers can then be better matched with export/outbound cargo, resulting in greater profitability for all concerned.

The role of inland port development grows
Helping match outbound cargo with inbound containers is stimulating activity at many U.S. inland ports. These hubs are being designed to transload and transship both international and domestic shipments more effectively between maritime ports and locations within the U.S. heartland. Inland ports, connected by dedicated rail lines to one or more “sister” seaports, provide a means for inbound and outbound ocean cargo to pass through congested waterfront terminals more quickly and cost effectively.

For those developments that can create demand for back-haul containers, they will find themselves much better positioned to attract traditional warehouse and distribution centers. For large importers such as major retailers, the ability to find local demand for their empty containers may prove to be the final determining factor in their site selection process.

Real estate opportunities
What does all this mean for real estate professionals? Plenty of opportunities, as the logistics industry and exporters establish hubs with immediate proximity to empty import containers, and to distribution hubs for shipment by rail to deepwater ports, then across the ocean to Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. The trend toward establishing and expanding inland ports will continue, presenting opportunities for site selection, master planning and development of new logistics parks and intermodal terminals. Success relies on a deep understanding of the logistics patterns of inbound container destinations, regional output, rail connectivity and public use transloading infrastructure.

Featured research