August 1, 2009

Logistics City USA

“Inland Port” looks to logistics to keep it afloat during the recession.

By Toby Gooley

While some Rust Belt cities have been devastated by the recession, Columbus, Ohio, is holding its own—and the city has logistics to thank for it.

Greater Columbus features a high concentration of logistics and transportation businesses, and those companies are helping to keep the region's economy afloat. Collectively, they employ some 45,000 people—52 percent more than would be expected for a U.S. city of its size, said Bill Lafayette, vice president, economic analysis for the area's chamber of commerce, in a meeting with reporters touring the city.

Attracting those businesses has been a centerpiece of the region's growth strategy ever since local boosters floated the "Inland Port Columbus" concept about two decades ago. Bernard "Bud" LaLonde, emeritus professor of logistics at Ohio State and an early proponent of the program, believes the initiative is now paying off. "Even in this down period, I'm optimistic about Columbus because we have the necessary infrastructure in place," he said. The city's location at the nexus of highways, intermodal rail lines, and air service (including the all-cargo Rickenbacker International Airport) has helped to attract transportation and logistics companies as well as warehouse and distribution operations, he noted.

Despite that success, efforts to enhance the city's logistics capabilities continue. The recently formed Columbus Region Logistics Council has set four main goals for itself: fostering a logistics-friendly business environment; developing and enhancing logistics infrastructure; bringing better technology to the region's logistics operations; and developing a highly skilled, logistics-savvy work force. The group has the firepower to accomplish its objectives: Its board of directors includes logistics executives from locally headquartered big name companies like Battelle, Big Lots, Cardinal Health, Exel, Honda of America Manufacturing, Limited Brands, and ODW Logistics.

More articles by Toby Gooley

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