The limited regional employment benefits of XXL-logistics centres in The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, a shift occurred over the last two decades from positively framed spatial-economic policies promoting the development of extra-large distribution centres (DCs) and their claimed positive employment benefits towards a critical stance questioning the benefits of such policies, fuelled by the connected debate regarding the extensive land use and environmental impacts of DCs. In this paper, we unravel the assumed regional employment benefits of DCs into (i) direct employment benefits within the DCs, (ii) indirect employment benefits in the supply chain, and (iii) employment benefits from structural changes in regional production systems around DCs. We analyse these benefits using detailed business microdata and logistics-building data over a 20-year timeframe in the East-Southeast freight corridor (from Rotterdam to Germany) In the corridor, logistics footprint has doubled, and average DC size has tripled in this timeframe. We demonstrate that, although part of the hypothesised benefits can be spatially identified, there is limited validity of spatial-economic policy narratives framing DCs as employment catalysts. Employment benefits of new DCs decrease over time, due in part to automation and use of migrant labour. The expected co-agglomeration of manufacturing near DCs does not occur structurally, and although DC-favouring regions have successfully established competitive logistics business ecosystems, they can be vulnerable to a spatial-economic lock-in, relying primarily on the logistics sector.

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