Thursday, October 18, 2012
Logistics as a Generator of Jobs
A few years ago I met Prof. Sheffi at an event with my colleague Theo Fletcher. He was nice enough to recently reach out to me for a contributed blog post as part of a publicity campaign for his new book.
By Professor Yossi Sheffi, Director. MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics
This is achieved through the growing importance of logistics clusters, agglomerations of firms that come together to share logistics expertise and know-how. The story of logistics clusters, and the key role they play in economic development, is told in my new book Logistics Clusters: Delivering Value and Driving Growth (MIT Press, October 2012).
There are logistics clusters in almost every part of the world in various locations including ports, airports, and sites close to major consumer markets. These clusters offer substantial supply chain benefits that are self-reinforcing. Logistics clusters generate large volumes of freight, which make it possible to capture economies of scale and scope. More efficient cargo flows lead to lower transportation costs and higher service levels, which attract even more companies to the cluster, feeding a virtuous circle of benefits. Another positive feedback loop is that by raising the efficiency bar these entities promote global growth, which increases the demand for the services that clusters provide, promoting further growth of global trade.
In addition, logistics clusters offer advantages based on the interchangeability of transportation and logistics assets. Rail cars, containers, trailers, and airplanes come in standard sizes and shapes regardless of what company owns and/or operates them. These assets – as well as specialized knowledge and best practices – can be shared by enterprises in the community, enabling them to withstand the variations in freight flows associated with the industries they serve.
As they grow both in number and reach, logistics clusters generate jobs. The port of Rotterdam, for example, employs 55,000 people directly and 90,000 indirectly. The Memphis International Airport in the U.S. is responsible for supports 220,000 jobs in the local economy, 95% of which are tied to cargo operations. In fact, more than one in three jobs in the Memphis area linked to the airport.
But as I explain in the book, it is not only the number of jobs that is impressive; logistics clusters also create a wide variety of employment opportunities. There are blue collar jobs in areas such as warehousing, white collar positions in IT, customer service, and management, and work associated with value-add activities including light manufacturing and repairs. In its Louisville Worldport hub, UPS employs hardware technicians to repair Toshiba laptops, for instance.
Of particular importance in this day and age is that these jobs are not generally “offshorable” and not dependent on a single industry. Late-stage customization of products is carried out in such clusters, and by definition these activities must be located in close proximity to end markets. In addition, the economics of transportation dictate that clusters should not too far from customers.
Logistics clusters are also building considerable expertise in environmental sustainability. These freight hubs make it possible to improve vehicle utilization rates and to deploy larger conveyances, which lower the carbon footprints of supply chains.
Globalization will continue to drive the growth of logistics clusters. I believe that we need more investment in these entities, which provide economic benefits that extend far beyond the logistics space.