A. Lee Graham
Walmart.com’s e-distribution center at Alliance is expanding. According to Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties, Walmart wants more space for its 800,000-square-foot facility that opened late last year. “They’re getting ready to expand. They’re trying to keep up with Amazon with e-commerce,” said Berry, while not revealing specifics. “Walmart is the one that’s trying to catch up. They’re on a very aggressive path to try to grow their e-commerce platform.” Speaking at a May 28 Society of Commercial Realtors Breakfast at Colonial Country Club, Berry expressed uncertainty about the local impact of the $5 billion effort to expand the Central American canal. Since 1914, the canal has allowed shippers much quicker passage between Pacific and Atlantic oceans than navigating south around the South American continent. The expansion project is expected to reach fruition in 2015.
For the first time since its opening a century ago, the 48-mile channel will double its capacity with two new sets of locks, or equipment allowing ships to be raised or lowered between stretches of water of varying levels. Currently, the existing ship lane is not deep or wide enough to accommodate the larger vessels. A new lane will allow ships three times larger than vessels currently moving through the canal. So what’s Hillwood’s stake in a multibillion-project so far south of the United States? That rests with imports and exports passing through North Texas and whether volumes will rise or fall when the expanded canal opens. Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in California, which regularly ship goods to AllianceTexas, are among ports nationwide in retrofit mode, with some requiring millions of dollars to fulfill dredging and other strategies to accommodate the larger vessels and make their ports competitive with the expanded canal. While some fear the canal will steer traffic away from those ports, others aren’t so sure. “Is it a threat or an enhancement?” said Berry, skeptical that the expansion will boost the volume of imported goods while hopeful that it could boost U.S. natural gas exports to Europe and Japan.