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Mapping Metropolitan Freight to Analyze Trade Data

The Mapping of Metropolitan Freight — a Tool to Analyze Trade Data

This report outlines how trade works at the regional level within the United States.
Statistics were compiled as part of the Global Cities Initiative

The following information was sourced from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institute.
Contact: Allison Courtin, 202-238-3556,

U.S. Goods Trade Relies on Regional Logistic Hubs

Washington, D.C. – The goods trade network in the United States centers on a small group of
metropolitan areas which serve as trading and distribution hubs for the rest of the country, finds
a new report by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, released today as a
part of the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase. These hubs
are crucial access points to the country’s most valuable trade corridors, and the operational
efficiency of their freight infrastructure should be a national priority.

The report, “Mapping Freight: The Highly Concentrated Nature of Goods Trade in the United
States,” by Senior Research Associate and Associate Fellow Adie Tomer and Senior Policy and
Research Assistant Joseph Kane, analyzes goods trade data from 2010 and provides insight on
the hierarchy of trade networks within the United States.

National and metropolitan leaders have lacked data on how trade works at the regional scale,
and as a result freight networks were not planned or built to prioritize specific places. We now
know that domestic and international trade is highly concentrated between the 100 largest
metropolitan areas in the United States.

More than 80 percent of all goods traded in the United States—a volume valued at more than $16.2 trillion dollars—either start or end in these metropolitan areas. For this reason an efficient, well-connected infrastructure network is a key component of our national goods exchange.

The research shows that several factors cause these metropolitan trade networks to arise
between specific places. These factors play a significant role in determining trade volumes at the
metropolitan level:
· Geographic proximity
· Higher concentration of logistics workers
· Larger population
· Complementary industries

Understanding these dynamics can help national and metropolitan leaders create more effective
freight plans, export strategies and infrastructure investments that accurately reflect these
priority trade corridors.

“Moving forward, firms and metropolitan areas need freight policies that better reflect how
trade flows like a hub-and-spoke network,” said Tomer. “National and local leaders must
recognize that investments in priority markets have the potential to benefit all regions of the
country and keep our metro areas’ goods trade competitive in the global market.”

Because more than 77 percent of all goods cross state or international borders, a huge
responsibility falls on federal policymakers to develop a comprehensive, national freight
strategy to prioritize infrastructure investments.

Creating such a strategy requires input from the Department of Transportation, as well as from the Department of Commerce, as freight has as much to do with industry—especially relating to supply chains—as it does with transportation.

At the local level, metropolitan leaders need to think broadly about transportation solutions. All
metropolitan economies depend on transportation infrastructure far beyond their local regions,
which means that in order to expand local trade, leaders must consider policies from a broader
perspective. Collaboration with state and regional partners is a critical step toward improving
freight movement in a specific metro.

“In the past, the federal government has delivered geographically equitable transportation
investments, but it is now time for leaders across the public and private sectors to coordinate
their efforts and prioritize key markets, while continuing to maintain our past investments,” said

This report is part of a series of Brookings research that expands the understanding of how
goods trade contributes to metropolitan economic growth and the role freight plays in
facilitating economic growth through domestic and international trade.

Future reports will focus on the freight transportation modes connecting U.S. metropolitan areas and their global counterparts.

Launched in 2012, the Global Cities Initiative is a five-year joint project of Brookings and
JPMorgan Chase aimed at helping city and metropolitan leaders become more globally fluent by
providing an in-depth and data-driven look at their regional standing on crucial global economic
measures, highlighting best policy and practice innovations from around the world, and creating
an international network of leaders who ultimately trade and grow together.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings provides decision-makers with cutting-edge research and policy ideas for improving the health and prosperity of metropolitan areas,including their component cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

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