It's what's inside that counts

Issues of congestion, security and environmental impact, among others, continue to play havoc with U.S. East and West Coast ports. As solutions are sought to ease burdens on the coasts and re-invigorate the center of the country, more private and governmental entities are looking at locations away from the oceans for import, break bulk and movement of shipments to final destinations. A number of inland port locations have enjoyed success and are continuing to increase their business and service to the shipping community.

Kansas City SmartPort (www.kcsmartport.com), for instance, was created as a non-profit entity in June 2001 to unify a number of efforts by several area organizations concerned with trade and commerce. The area boasts three major interstate highways that connect at its center as well as the second busiest rail yard in the U.S. and a large inland navigable waterway, the Missouri River.

Since its inception, SmartPort has had a number of successes in attracting business and, as Chris Gutierrez, SmartPort's president, notes, a number of distribution centers (DCs) have located in Kansas City—most recently Case New Holland (500,000 square feet) and Musician's Friend (700,000) square feet). SmartPort companies feature cross-dock operations as well as traditional warehousing and DCs.

Rail plays a key part in SmartPort offerings and the evolving trade corridor between Mexico's Port of Lazaro Cardenas and Kansas City promises to bring increasing amounts of Asian shipments to the U.S. from that Latin American port. Hutchison Port Holdings, a developer and operator of deepwater ports is well along in a 20-year, $290 million expansion project at Lazaro Cardenas.

Domestic rail activities at SmartPort include plans by rail company Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to build a logistics park at Kansas City similar to those it already operates at Joliet, Ill., and Alliance, Tex. "As part of SmartPort," explains Gutierrez, "BNSF plans to bring LA/Long Beach containerized freight to this facility and build big box DCs around it." BNSF already has two substantial intermodal facilities in the area. Another rail company Norfolk Southern (NS), has a large intermodal facility that handles containerized freight. Additionally Kansas City Southern Railway has plans to build an intermodal facility on Richards Gebaur Airport, a former U.S. Air Force base.

Kansas City handles a substantial amount of air cargo—its airport currently has 10,000 acres being promoted for industrial development rather than airport growth and has garnered some interest in direct Asian cargo coming into Kansas City. The acreage has been designated as a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) but has not yet been activated as such.

Gutierrez notes that SmartPort is in the forefront of intelligent transportation systems activity. "We've done a number of tests of open technology to enable use of any technology that people are using," he says. "If a trucking company is using wireless technology or if there is RFID in the mix, we want a system that can recognize and read all of that data. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants data fusion centers, and we are actively starting to develop those and to integrate them with already existing programs. Shippers, carriers and government have differing reasons why they want to know where freight is, and we are working to bring all of that together into one data center."

Rickenbacker International Airport (www.rickenbacker.org) in Columbus, Ohio, was privatized from a military airport in 1980. Since that time there has been a focus on trying to develop Rickenbacker as a distribution center, capitalizing on the strength of its location, being centrally located near more than half of the U.S. manufacturing base. "With our geographic asset, the region has been focused on distribution and supply chain activity since 1980," claims David Whitaker, the airport's vice president of business development and communications.

The region has been very active and focused on logistics as a core competency. Just in the Rickenbacker area, there are 30 million square feet of warehousing and DCs under roof, and the Columbus area also boasts other major DCs.

The facility enjoys three modes of transportation. It has a first class international airport with two wide runways capable of landing any aircraft in the world and which are open all the time. Rickenbacker has an existing intermodal facility, called Discovery Park, operated by rail company, NS. "This year construction is expected to begin on a new intermodal facility, also to be operated by NS," notes Whitaker. "The theory at the moment is that both the new and existing facilities will be used to provide new intermodal capacity. Discovery Park will probably still be used as an intermodal facility for a few years—it's an NS asset, so they'll make the final decision." Motor carriage is the third mode at the airport.

The new Rickenbacker intermodal terminal is a component of the Heartland Corridor Project that will connect the Port of Virginia to Chicago through Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. Rail company CSX has mainline track presence in the area though it does not have an intermodal operation at Rickenbacker.

"A small percentage of goods are arriving by air," Whitaker notes. "The raw number is so large that the percentage is significant. In 2005 we had our best year in over 15 with more than 100,000 tons transported." Air cargo operations have been upgraded through development of the Rickenbacker Air Cargo Terminal complex, which is comprised of three air cargo terminal buildings with 164,000 square feet of space and direct airside access. Two more terminals are planned for construction over the next few years.

With its designation as FTZ 138, the Air Cargo Terminal Complex offers Rickenbacker global trade services for freight forwarders and shippers. Combined with the airport's Customs clearance facility, Rickenbacker is among the largest ports of entry for textiles in the U.S.

In addition to rail expansion, another big project for Rickenbacker is its Global Logistics Park. "We have partnered with Duke Realty to develop 1,000 acres of airport land we've identified as not necessary for aviation purposes," explains Whitaker. "It's where we'll offer distribution and light manufacturing. We will be capitalizing on the growth we expect from the new intermodal facility."

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