VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Indiana must not let TDL opportunities elude its grasp

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Unlike some other Hoosier economic initiatives, much of the required infrastructure to rapidly advance TDL into significant growth is already in place.

More Interstate highways cross the state

An economic development analyst determining the physical advantages of Indiana might initially be challenged. Indiana has no oceans. No mountains. No temperate climate.

But the Hoosier state does possess one singular unmatched physical plus: It is the state geographically closest to the bulk of
most U.S. major markets.

For more than a century, Indiana has been the median center of the American population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and more than 80 million people live within 500 miles of Indianapolis.

This fact, together with the state’s consummate integration of railroads, highways, ports and air resources, has earned it the title of “The Crossroads of America.” In a global economy dependent on the commercial capacity to transport, sort and distribute all manner of goods, Indiana’s position remains strategically critical. For this and other reasons, Indiana could and should be the national leader in transportation, distribution and logistics, or TDL.

History is replete with advanced civilizations that shared a common point: Those fortunate to be at the convergence of trade routes almost always flourished. Out of the top U.S. Business Economic Areas, Indiana ranks 12th in total freight volume with 274 million tons annually over rail, air, water and roads.

The Hoosier state is a natural-with much infrastructure already in place-to seize specialized intermodal growth opportunities. Standardized intermodal containers can be readily adapted for any type of available transportation, be it ships, trains, trucks or jets. As the TDL industry transforms and fossil fuel costs spiral higher, will Indiana capture its natural advantage?

Contrary to reality, many still perceive stereotyped country western aficionados as running the TDL industry, hammering oilstained 18-wheelers across wide-open spaces. In truth, the global TDL industry represents a sophisticated and astonishing $17 trillion category that demands and deploys the latest in technology. Ask a warehouse employee today for his or her background and you’re likely to find an honors graduate in computer programming or a PhD who specializes in Que theory and stochastic fluctuations.

The TDL industry represents a profound opportunity for Indiana to move forward in information technology, advanced manufacturing and life sciences.

It’s no secret that Indiana’s economy is largely driven today by manufacturing. Jobs produced by the manufacturing sector in state average $42,000 annually. But few realize that Indiana TDL jobs-particularly those in wholesale distribution-follow closely behind with an average wage of nearly $37,000, far higher than those in the Indiana service sector.

With Wal-Mart and other major commercial operations requiring the use of radio frequency identification for commodity delivery and inventory control, software manufacturers and third-party
than any other, and Indiana ranks high in several key TDL industry categories such as available rail, which is showing resurgence with new fuel-efficient and hybrid locomotives. By any account, Indiana should be a dominant player in this critically strategic American industry.

But paradoxically, Indiana has historically and inexplicably done much to repel and dilute its natural advantage. Only in recent years has the state moved to repeal its crippling inventory tax, and many of its citizens are still arguing whether to conform to national time-keeping standards. Competitors in other states wonder in
happy disbelief.

To achieve lasting success for the state and its citizens, Indiana must remove all unreasonable and artificial barriers to TDL commerce, seek its fair share of federal fuel tax dollars, fund and promote new road and intermodal center construction in economically disadvantaged regions, and leverage its deep intellectual resources to fashion a new model of intermodal shipping to lead the nation.

Snyder is principal of The MEK Group, a Carmel-based marketing and business development firm. Views expressed here are the writer’s.

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