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KC Trade Forecast

by Mary Rooney | Sep 07, 2021

Port KC - Kansas City Container Market Analysis and Intermodal Trade Forecast

Kansas City appears primed for growth in trade and metrics indicate the metropolitan area is an attractive commercial and residential location, with a rising population, high rankings in affordability and household income, and thriving industrial and manufacturing developments. The region’s economic strength is enhanced by an expansive transportation network, supporting further opportunities for growth. This successful portfolio is drawing in international containerized imports of consumer merchandise, commercial machinery and equipment and farming materials. 

The expectation of continued economic gain is attracting industrial development of buildings and logistics parks for retail distribution, eCommerce, agricultural product transloading, and general manufacturing. Kansas City’s market desirability is evidenced by statistics showing that more than 355 area firms imported at least 50 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (“TEUs”) in 2019. Six of the area’s businesses that imported 500 or more TEUs are included in the Journal of Commerce’s list of “U.S. Top 100 Container Importers for 2019.” 

Kansas City’s western location within the Midwest is a positive for trade. China is the dominant source for most U.S. container imports, which predominantly enters the U.S. at West Coast ports. This positions Kansas City as the first inbound rail hub in the Midwest with direct intermodal service from Southern California ports.

Kansas City has five Class I railroads operating at four different inland intermodal terminals, offering service with all major U.S. container ports. The KC market is the fourth-largest inbound inland gateway in the U.S. and second-largest in the Midwest, with inbound containerized import volume of nearly 500,000 TEUs in 2020. 

Kansas City’s inbound annual trade growth rate exceeded that of the other leading Midwest trade gateways between 2017-2020. Kansas City is one of only four of the top 10 inland markets in the nation that experienced an increase in TEU volume in 2020. This is due in part to the significant expansion of industrial distribution and warehousing within the Kansas City metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Early indications point to a continued increase in imports this year. 

The increase in the volume of inbound intermodal containers can be attributed to the growth in regional economic activity, as explained by the expansion in square footage of occupied industrial buildings. Kansas City MSA industrial space square footage is projected to continue its rapid growth with a total gain of 40% through 2030, due to the accelerated expansion in eCommerce. 

Kansas City’s annual export volume makes it the second largest container export load center in the Midwest, with a 14% share. Livestock products, grains, and related byproducts account for just over 60% of container exports at Kansas City rail ramps. 

It is anticipated that inbound trade momentum will carry forward over the next couple of years, exhibiting annual volume gains in the mid to high single digits. A few aggregate trade (imports, exports, empties) milestones to note for Kansas City: 2 million total TEUs are expected by 2032; 3 million TEUs reached in 2043; and 4 million TEUs possibly handled by area intermodal rail ramps by 2062. 

Read the full report.  

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