Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Supply Chains Got Their Shapes

I was late to the DVR party. I've only had one for the past six months and that's only because I bargained with Comcast to get a lower monthly cable bill and the DVR was part of the deal (I don't really get it either, but it saves me $30 per month). So maybe because I'm not used to having it, I don't record a lot of shows. However, one show that I do record is "How the States Got Their Shapes" on the History Channel. If you haven't seen the show before, it is pretty entertaining and informative while, not surprisingly, telling the stories of "How the States Got Their Shapes."

Last week when we were discussing FedEx and their decision to locate in Memphis, Tennessee, partially because it was close to the population center of the United States, I recalled an episode of "How the States Got Their Shapes." In this particular episode they discuss how the population center of the early United States played into the decision for the site of Washington D.C. The show then went on to discuss how the U.S. population center has moved over the years (the Census Bureau has a great map showing that movement from 1790 to today) and potential reasons behind the more recent migration trends reflected in the shifting population center. As you can see from the Census map, when FedEx (then, Federal Express) chose to locate its headquarters in Memphis in the early 1970s the nation's population center was a few hundred miles to the north near St. Clair, Illinois. That coupled with the airport's capacity and agreeable weather made Memphis a strategic location indeed.

When you look at the Census map, you can see a decidedly southwestern shift in the population center beginning around 1950. Interestingly enough, "How the States Got Their Shapes" cites air conditioning as one of the primary reasons for this population trend. Of course this opens up discussion on a whole host of issues regarding energy use, the lack of fresh water in these areas, food supply, and the like. As it pertains to this class, the supply chain and delivery of these basic and essential resources in a more efficient, sustainable, reliable (i.e. rolling blackouts/brownouts in California), innovative, and cost effective manner could prove critical in the, possibly near, future. So with the population shift unlikely to change anytime soon, how does this play out? And, on a related note, will communities like the new population center of Plato, Missouri or possible future population centers like Fayetteville, Arkansas, assert their strategic locations as key distribution hubs moving forward?

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