More than 18 million tons of general cargo moves through the Port of Hampton Roads each year, and most of those products require at least a short-term stay in Virginia before and after they're on the water.
As cargo volume has increased through the state's shipping lanes, so has the amount of warehouse space required to hold it.
The Hampton Roads region is home to nearly 100 million square feet of warehousing space that's used in part to send and receive goods from the port, commercial real estate analysts estimate. That represents about half the area's total warehousing space.
Mass-market retailers lead the way:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a sprawling, 3 million-square-foot distribution center in James City County.
Target Corp. has a 1.8 million-square-foot import warehouse in Suffolk.
Hewlett-Packard Co. operates a 1.44 million-square-foot facility near Richmond.
Home-shopping channel QVC Network Inc. has a 1.2 million-square-foot facility in Suffolk.
Ferguson Enterprises Inc., Family Dollar Stores Inc., J. Crew Group Inc., Nautica and Best Buy Co. all have large distribution centers scattered throughout the state — from the Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke to Richmond to Hampton Roads.
Many of those are here because of the maritime business and foreign trade. In all, the warehousing and storage industry related to port activities employs nearly 1,000 workers in the region, who have an average salary of about $40,000 a year, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the Virginia Port Authority.
But, some in the retail and warehousing industry say, those numbers appear conservative.
Target Corp. employs nearly 300 in its Suffolk import warehouse, says facility general manager Mark Irvin. And Chesapeake-based warehousing and logistics firm D.D. Jones Transfer and Warehouse Co. Inc. — which has at least four major competitors in the region — employs more than 100 workers.
"For as long as we've had the port, storage and warehousing has been big business here," says Donald Z. Goldberg, president of D.D. Jones, which operates about 1.4 million square feet of warehousing and transfer space in south Hampton Roads.
About 80 percent of the Chesapeake firm's business is directly related to the Port of Hampton Roads.
"We've been around since 1928," Goldberg says, "and as long as we have the port, we'll keep the tradition alive."