China’s Infrastructure Issues Spell Opportunity for U.S.

Nov. 5, 2012

China is evolving from an export-driven manufacturing economy to a more balanced consumer-driven developed economy, and its logistics landscape is under pressure to adapt, according to new research by Jones Lang LaSalle.

China’s evolution has driven three key trends:

∙ The rise of the domestic middle class;

∙ Rising wages and diminished cost advantages in manufacturing;

∙ The rapid development of domestic infrastructure.

These trends are creating long-term opportunities for U.S. companies.

“China is still learning how to transport, warehouse and market goods in the modern global economy,” said Craig Meyer, head of Jones Lang LaSalle’s Industrial and Logistics group. “U.S. companies have extensive experience in these disciplines and have tremendous room to apply their talents in China.”

“China is seeking a balance between retaining a leadership position in global manufacturing and catering to the needs of an influential domestic and increasingly urbanized population,” he continued. “This balancing act offers opportunities for U.S. companies to tap a potent new consumer base within China. And with this, comes an increasing demand for modern logistics space in China.”

The report, “China a Great Wall of Opportunities,” gives U.S. companies insights into China’s supply chain and logistics network. Topics include supply chain and transportation decisions, warehouse site selection and lease negotiation.

Three major elements provide some long-term opportunities for U.S. companies seeking to do business in China:

Competition from Neighbors

More and more of China’s manufacturing operations are shifting inland. Major centers such as Chengdu, Chongqing, and Wuhan (Central China), and Shenyang (in the North) have sprung up as major manufacturing hubs in the past five years. These cities are home to enormous manufacturing campuses to some of the world’s largest manufacturers across a diverse range of products and industries. These centers are staving off competition from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, which are said to be lagging China in establishing advanced logistics infrastructure.

The Rise of the Middle Classes

New standards of living are creating a shift in consumer taste in China. The greatest boost for the warehousing and distribution market is in the larger market for retail staples such as clothes and food. Additionally, e-commerce is emerging differently in China than in developed nations in North America and Europe.

Although the acceleration of sales volume in China is comparable to the U.S. and European countries, methods to pay for and receive merchandise have not yet reached the same level of sophistication. China lacks automated warehouse management or other “inside the box” material handling systems, putting pressure on retailers to devise their own delivery schemes.

“We expect to see tracking and delivery operations improve in order to meet the projected volume of e-commerce business expected over the next few years,” added Meyer.

Infrastructure Gradually Improving

One of the benefits of China’s rapid growth is its investment in domestic infrastructure. New rail and roadway systems are helping to spur commerce and facilitate the efficient movement of goods and materials throughout the country, especially in the quickly developing inland provinces that have lacked transport connections in the past.

“Several Chinese developers have also seen the efficiencies that the U.S. has achieved in its inland rail-served logistics parks, and are now exploring the potential for implementing similar infrastructure in several strategic locations,” said Meyer.

China is now recognizing the profits from years of infrastructure investment. While much of this was initially directed toward the coastal regions, more funding is being directed to the country’s interior, which further supports a maturing logistics economy and transportation network efficiencies both domestically and abroad. Yet there are still major gaps, such as a trucking system that is highly regulated and lacks sufficient economies of scale.

Hurdles to Jump

“Connections still drive the leasing and investment market in China, especially for the warehouse and logistics sector, which generates fewer local jobs than manufacturing, technology and professional services industries,” said Aaron Ahlburn, Head of Industrial Research for Jones Lang LaSalle. “Because of this, there has been some inclination to under-allocate land for warehouse or distribution use, leading to a shortage of modern, prime-quality inventory.”

China’s industrial real estate market is also seeing greater transparency. While the market is certainly still in its developing phase, many tier-one cities have been actively developed by institutional/international industrial developers since 2003. It takes solid relationships – with logistics property developers, local government officials, sources of capital and other local suppliers – to make a successful entry or expansion into China’s warehousing market.

An extensive bureaucracy, perceived corruption and a lack of transparency contribute to difficulty in doing business in China.

“There are many hurdles to jump,” said Ahlburn. “Despite the immediate challenges in finding modern space and the near-term effects of a global economy struggling to regain traction, there are long-term opportunities in China. As in so much of business in the East, unique relationships drive leasing in the warehousing and logistics sector.”

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