Empty shipping containers are stacking high at US ports all around the country. Some will be filled again and shipped back overseas to China, India, or Japan. A large number, however, will remain empty. The influx of empty containers is a strong visual that explains the American economy has changed.
More and more American jobs are shifting towards the service and technology industry and getting away from manufacturing. With many of the products Americans use today being made in Asian countries, the United States is becoming more of a “user” than a “provider” of tangible goods. This means many containers full of goods come into the United States and a smaller number of them are shipped back out.
Some small and large business owners have taken advantage of the excess containers in ship yards in unique ways. Starbucks has chosen to use empty containers as drive-thru or temporary stores as old stores are being renovated. This allows the coffee giant to continue to serve their customers without having the cost burden of renting at a new location.
Real estate businesses have also decided that shipping containers are a cost-effective, environmentally safe way for people to live in metro areas. Three Squared, a Detroit building company, will begin construction in 2013 for a 20-unit condominium project near Wayne State University using empty shipping containers. The containers will be outfitted with plumbing, electricity, insulation, doors and windows. Three Squared plans to stack the containers 4-high. While containers are more widely used in Europe, the United States is slowly catching on to use the structures in innovative ways.