Data Dig: Trains, Planes, and Trucks

Our recent blog titled “How Attractive is Your Region to Prospective Companies” spoke to the importance of diversifying your economic base. Supporting local business growth and providing a supportive and dynamic business environment are key fundamentals. So are business retention, expansion and recruitment strategies.

But before you can create a comprehensive plan, you need to identify areas of opportunity within your economic base. Workforce will always be a prominent site selection factor. However, for many decision makers, especially within larger-scale manufacturing companies, infrastructure is often a major consideration as well. Though many jurisdictions entice with promises, plans and incentives to create the necessary access routes, utilities, etc., regions have a much stronger value proposition when feeding off existing strengths.

Is your region at a trucking crossroads? Does it have solid freight rail connections, or superior international airport access? These assets may be very important inputs to the supply chain of certain industries.

Tapping into the power of, you can access valuable information in unique ways. For instance, you can look at specific input industries, and then quickly identify their downstream supply chain to find out who is using them most! Taking this one step further, you can crosswalk that with your current industry activities and strengths, and presto! You have a hot target list.


If your region is specialized in long-distance freight trucking (i.e. NAICS 484121, or 484122) or in specialized freight trucking (NAICS 484230), there is inevitably going to be other targets with strong potential interconnectedness. This of course, includes distribution centers, but beyond this, industries in agriculture/food processing, metal, plastics, and concrete manufacturing as well. Reviewing complementary service industries such as wholesale trade agents/brokers might also plug potential supply chain gaps. The table below highlights to top buyers of long-distance and specialized trucking services, i.e. serving not just the local community but wider distribution networks and customers and niche buyers based on the value of purchases.

Top Buyers of Long-distance & Specialized Trucking



Rail transportation is technically separated in the NAICS system into 482111 Line-Haul Railroads and 482112 Short Line Railroads. However, the underlying data and surveys to create the buying and selling ecosystem at the 6-digit NAICS does not cover rail transportation in the same detail as other industries (agriculture being another data challenged industry).

Digging beneath the surface, the top buyers at the 5-digit level NAICS 48211 in the table below reveals similarities to trucking in terms of agrofood, metals, chemicals, plastics, but also additional industries such as paper and glass products.

Top Buyers of Rail Transportation

  • Iron and Steel Mills and Ferroalloy Manufacturing
  • All Other Basic Organic Chemical Manufacturing
  • Petroleum Refineries
  • Crop Production, Animal Production, Other Animal Food Manufacturing, Wet Corn Milling, Flour Milling, Fats and Oils Refining and Blending, Soybean and Other Oilseed Processing
  • Plastics Material and Resin Manufacturing, All Other Plastics Product Manufacturing
  • Petrochemical Manufacturing
  • Bituminous Coal Underground and Bituminous Coal and Lignite Surface Mining
  • Ready-Mix Concrete Manufacturing
  • Paper (except Newsprint) Mills, Corrugated and Solid Fiber Box Manufacturing, Paperboard Mills
  • Glass Product Manufacturing Made of Purchased Glass


Although many advanced services and technology industries are considered footloose industries that are “location neutral”, with solid access to electricity and internet, workers and especially business owners still must network and sell! As the table below highlights, air transportation scheduled or unscheduled, for passengers or freight, is particularly valued by professional services such as banking, legal, engineering, as well as IT services such as software publishers, data processing or computer system design services, or internet publishing.

Top Buyers of Air Transportation

There are manufacturing companies that can benefit from airport access, though they usually rely on international courier services (NAICS 492110) for smaller volumes that are trumped by the sheer volume of e.g. advanced service workers using air transportation. Reviewing the freight mode chosen by industries, industries that spend the most money on direct air transportation or courier services (even if its not their primary mode of transportation), are the high value electronics, pharmaceuticals and niche high value manufacturing products.

Source: US Commodity Flow survey

Once you have a list of possible target industries, circle back to your existing assets: which ones fit with current and emerging clusters, research or workforce strengths? Does the industry profile show solid growth trends? Can you provide the top occupations? Prioritize where you have the strongest value proposition and go hunt for gazelles!

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