Chamber Report

Logistics: A Booming Industry

Infrastructure updates have helped to solidify the Columbus region’s role as a logistics hub.

By Michael Dalby
From the August 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

 With a growing population and economy, Columbus is a region on the move.

One industry at the forefront of our growth is transportation and logistics. Most people don’t realize the impact this industry makes on their lives, as it moves goods across the country and around the world with a focus on ensuring the items are in the right place at the right time.

Most Central Ohioans don’t realize the added impact this industry has made right here, in terms of jobs and economic prosperity.

The 11-county Columbus region boasts an employment concentration 41 percent greater than the sector’s share in overall U.S. employment, translating to more than 80,000 workers in the transportation, warehousing and wholesale industries.

Perhaps best of all is the growth the logistics industry continues to command, as evidenced by the feedback of companies working in the sector every day. According to a recent survey conducted by the Columbus Chamber’s Columbus Region Logistics Council (CRLC), 100 percent of the respondents planned to hire additional staff in 2013, with 90 percent also reporting workforce growth in 2012. Few industries can anticipate such steady year-to-year growth, with no slowdown in sight.

Key Factors

More than 45 percent of survey respondents cited the region’s strong customer base as a key reason for their company’s growth, with infrastructure updates commanding a similar response. Those attributes ring true for Tim Williams, senior vice president of customer operations at McGraw-Hill Education and co-chair of the CRLC.

“We ship to schools and universities all over the country and the world and use Columbus as a central distribution point to provide efficient service at low cost,” says Williams. “Columbus allows transportation companies to provide late pick-up times and offer faster transit times due to the proximity to vendors and customers.”

Columbus’ strategic location between the East Coast and Chicago, and within a one-day drive of nearly 50 percent of the U.S. and Canadian population, have made it an attractive target for companies seeking a smart and efficient spot for their distribution centers. And infrastructure updates have helped to solidify the Columbus region’s role as a logistics hub.

Geoff Manack, co-owner of Hyperlogistics, has benefitted from these assets. “Location, location, location is absolutely critical,” says Manack. “Our region has done a remarkable job in identifying infrastructure areas of concern and working with government and industry leaders to correct outdated design and alleviate bottlenecks in commercial traffic flow.”

The Workforce

In the survey, warehousing and materials handling were cited most frequently as hiring priorities over the next year, with business development and sales coming in a close second. Operations/management and technology staff are also being sought.

Williams agrees, but points out the increasing need for technology skills as warehousing and material handling continue to be more automated. “The workforce must have more adaptive knowledge interacting with a range of new technologies to adequately perform the job,” Williams says.

Jeff Brashares, senior vice president of sales and national accounts for TTS anticipates growth in the areas of operations, customer service and business development.

Growth Opportunities

Sixty percent of survey respondents identified the creation of additional job functions as the primary growth opportunity over the next five years.

Companies need to stay competitive in the marketplace, resulting in vertical growth and the creation of even more logistics-related positions. “We are seeing an increase in technology job functions in logistics due to new more complex software, hardware and equipment needed to drive more automation and efficiencies,” Williams says.

Manack, too, sees technology as a game-changer. “Logistics has benefitted from [technology] by offering new careers to many people who began to realize that global logistics is a much wider horizon than warehousing and distribution centers could offer,” says Manack.

Specialized logistics programs at Columbus region institutions, including Ohio State University, support this trend of incorporating technology into the curriculum.

What’s next? The Columbus Region Logistics Roadmap, the guiding force behind the CRLC, is about to undergo an update. Initially established in 2007, the roadmap identified four key strategies. Expect the new plan to be shaped and shared later this year.

Michael Dalby is president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber. He can be reached at (614) 225-6917 or michael_dalby@columbus.org.