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Good OM Reading: The Power of Logistics Clusters

September 22, 2012

Everyone understands the concept of industrial clusters that have developed around the world:  Silicon Valley (for information technology), Hollywood (for entertainment), and Boston (for life sciences). Strong clusters are ecosystems of venture capital resources, universities, research centers, employers, highly skilled workers and institutions for collaborations.

The MIT Sloan Management Review (Fall, 2012), however, introduces the concept of logistics clusters local networks of businesses that provide a wide array of logistics services, including transportation carriers, warehousing companies, freight forwarders and third-party logistics service providers. They also include the distribution operations of retailers, manufacturers and distributors. These clusters attract companies for whom logistics is a critical element of their service offering or a large part of their overall costs.

Logistics clusters are located strategically to enable efficient transportation and delivery services to large populations. They are positioned in mode-changing locations such as busy seaports (Rotterdam, Shanghai, Los Angeles), airport hubs (Hong Kong, Seoul, Memphis) and major intermodal yards where freight shipments transfer from railcars to trucks (such as Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City). Some of the world’s largest logistics hubs, including Singapore, São Paulo and Memphis, bring together multiple elements at once. The economics of transportation means that cargo has to travel long distances in bulk, while demand from retailers and JIT manufacturers means that final distribution must be handled locally in small quantities in response to the ups and downs of customer demand.

The Sloan article notes 3 major advantages of logistics clusters:

1. Value additions. For example, UPS repairs Toshiba laptops at its facility in Louisville, next to the UPS Worldport air hub, reducing service turnaround times from 2 weeks to 4 days.

2. Facilitating returns.  Miami’s Neptune Lines specializes in refurbishing secondhand pieces of heavy equipment for Caterpillar and Komatsu. It handles about 5,000 pieces of equipment per year.

3. Attracting other industries and jobs. Indianapolis has some 1,500 logistics and related services companies, including distribution centers for, Hewlett-Packard, and CVS Caremark.

This is a nice article to ask your students to read before you discuss the topic of logistics in Chapter 11.

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