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Magnetic Attractions: Shifting Demographics Sway Seaports

Like metal to magnets, supply chains zero in on massive population and consumption centers, and high-volume production belts. Should seaports be concerned with demographic-driven shifts in these freight hotspots?

* By Lori Musser *

Like moths to a flame or metal to a magnet, supply chains zero in on massive population and consumption centers, and high-volume production belts. Should seaports be concerned with demographic-driven shifts in these freight hotspots? It may depend on where the demographics are changing, the cargoes involved and the magnitude of the shifts.

Shannon McLeod, senior planner for the maritime division of WSP, which has done planning work for almost every seaport in the United States, said, “The [global production] shifts that we analyze are somewhat reflective of demographics, but those effects can be very difficult to nail down, with a few exceptions such as changes impacting housing- and construction-related imports of products.” Seaports need to look comprehensively at many factors, including shifts in technology, which may prove far more important moving forward, McLeod said.

Even gradual or small shifts in populations in a port’s own backyard may necessitate changes, perhaps to zoning, land use, workforce, harbor access, security, public outreach or traffic routing.

The Port of Long Beach, for example, brought in WSP to develop a powerful and comprehensive land use planning tool to prevent land use planning conflicts. “It uses many variables, and evaluates opportunities, benefits and challenges associated with land use opportunities on any piece of property within the port,” according to WSP’s Director of U.S. Maritime Division, Blair Garcia.

To address its demographic woes and pressures from population, PortMiami developed an infrastructure solution in the form of a tunnel. “There was a mixture of public discord and productivity challenges for the port; the tunnel was of benefit to all concerned,” said Garcia. This tunnel enabled the port to expand capacity while reducing truck traffic downtown. As residential and office populations grew, trucks were deemed the nemesis to downtown economic growth.

Population shifts can effect ports as well. Ports with major real estate portfolios may need to pay particular attention to urban density, a major catalyst for low vacancy rates, new construction and climbing lease rates.

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