How one Central Valley city became Northern California’s logistics hub
Amazon. Safeway. Costco. FedEx. Ford. The Home Depot. These are just a few of the names that have established major distribution centers in San Joaquin County over the past 30 years.
Federal job statistics confirm that San Joaquin County is a leading center for warehousing, logistics and distribution in the Western United States. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Stockton-Lodi metropolitan area has the second-highest concentration of transportation and logistics jobs in the country — bested only by Laredo, Texas.
So what’s attracting all of these transportation, distribution and logistics operations to the region? A 2019 study from University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy Research attributes the growth of San Joaquin County’s goods movement system to four primary causes: the rise of e-commerce, the coalescence of a Northern California mega-region, the county’s connectedness through its transportation infrastructure and its strategic location, and a workforce ideally suited for transportation and logistics jobs.
San Joaquin County is strategically located at the heart of what economists are calling the Northern California mega-region. It’s a concept that was first coined by the Bay Area Council in 2016. Encapsulating 21 counties in Northern California, the zone is home to more than 12 million people, representing nearly a third of California’s total population. The counties are connected by commute patterns, movement of goods, housing markets, and mutually complementary economies that help meet the needs of businesses throughout the region.
Stockton, San Joaquin County’s largest city (2018 population: 311,178) and primary economic center, is located less than 100 miles from San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento — places where the cost of land makes it prohibitively expensive to house expansive, large-footprint structures like warehouses and fulfillment centers. The combination of Stockton’s lower density and its proximity to large population centers in the Bay Area and Sacramento are what make it attractive to logistics and fulfillment operations in the region.
The exodus by these warehouses and distribution centers out of the core Bay Area began back in the mid-1990s, which was around the same time property values in San Francisco and nearby counties began to rise precipitously, according to the Center for Business and Policy Research. That trend has only accelerated since then. The center’s report finds that concentration of transportation and warehousing jobs has grown nearly three-fold since 1993.
A connected city
Whether it’s by air, land or sea, goods pass through Stockton around-the-clock.
Located at the nexus of two out of three major north-south freeways in California — I-5 and SR-99 — Stockton is connected by a robust ground transportation system to the major population centers in the Central Valley, Southern California and, via I-580, the San Francisco Bay Area. Moreover, its location along I-5, the major north-south freeway in the Western United States, provides connection to cities across the continental U.S.
The Port of Stockton, utilizing the San Joaquin River deep water channel, carries tons of cargo each year between the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay. Stockton Metropolitan Airport allows cargo carriers — including Amazon Air — to dispatch their goods to customers across the country.
All that is bolstered by top-tier rail service: The City of Stockton is served by two national Class I railway lines, and is home to two major intermodal rail-freight terminals, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific.
A motivated workforce
Known as a “city of makers,” Stockton is a top regional destination for artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, craftspersons and others working in the trades. San Joaquin Delta College, recently ranked the No. 4 best community college in the nation when measured along vectors related cost and quality, offers dozens of career and technical education (CTE) programs for career-minded individuals who know what industry they want to work in. Delta College also offers a CTE transition program for high school students grades nine through 12, offering a direct career pathway for jobs that are predicted to be in high demand, bypassing alternative paths that funnel students towards the increasingly saturated tech industry job market.
The culmination of these programs, together with Stockton’s relatively young population (the median age in Stockton is 32.8, compared to a national average of 38.2), creates a motivated, practical-minded, career-ready workforce ideal for filling blue-collar posts like those in the transportation and logistics industries. Additionally, with Stockton’s relatively low cost of living compared to coastal population centers in California, businesses will find a hardworking, relatively low-cost workforce in the Bay Area’s backyard.