When George Powers seeks sites for import distribution centers, the first place he looks is near large U.S. seaports. "That's where the cargo is," said Powers, president of American Port Services, a third-party logistics provider that serves big retailers.
He's not alone. Industrial real estate developers, backed by institutional investors, have been scouting the West, East and Gulf coasts for locations that can be developed into distribution centers ranging in size from 200,000 square feet to more than 1 million square feet.
Importers, retailers and third-party logistics providers are leasing these facilities, with the biggest force being big-box retailers, said Blaine Kelley, first vice president of the real estate firm CB Richard Ellis. He and Powers spoke this month at The Journal of Commerce's Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference in Long Beach, Calif.
Containerized imports, mostly from Asia, move by ship to the major ports and are trucked to nearby import distribution centers. Some of the operations are pure cross-dock or flow-through centers where the merchandise is unloaded from marine containers and loaded immediately into domestic containers and trailers for truck or rail shipment to inland destinations.
Many of the import distribution centers operate as traditional warehouses where workers provide value-added services such as bagging, tagging, quality-control inspections and pick-and-pack consolidation. The import distribution centers ship the consolidated containers and trailers to …