First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Lauren Comiteau 

Logistics: not the most glamorous sounding of industries. But everything – from jeans to coal to data – has to get from point A to point B, making this the third largest sector in Amsterdam in terms of employment and turnover.

“Amsterdam has 400 years of expertise in trade and logistics,” says Joep Schroeders, Foreign Investments Manager of Logistics and Aerospace for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. “What we see today is the logical extension of the Golden Age traders.”

While those Golden Age traders set the logistics bar using Amsterdam’s position at the mouth of Amstel to transport products though the city’s ample waterways and beyond, most of Amsterdam’s logistics operations today centre around Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. It’s the EU’s best- connected airport, serving 322 destinations worldwide. It also ranks third in Europe in terms of the amount of cargo transported annually: 1.66 million tonnes in 2016.

A logistical wonder

“Amsterdam is very important because we can move by air freight to the world,” says Marco Klaassen, Managing Director for Mainland Europe of logistics company Aramex, whose Dutch headquarters and 10,000-m2 warehouse are ten minutes away from the airport. “It keeps transit costs and times down.”

And although logistics-wise Schiphol Airport is to Amsterdam what the port is to Rotterdam, Amsterdam also has its own port: the world’s largest for shipping cacao and petrol. In addition, there are two other ‘ports’: the dataport Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX) and the Greenport Aalsmeer, where the world’s largest flower auction is based.

Royal FloraHolland is a cooperative of 4,500 flower and plant growers whose base is roughly the size of Monaco. Some 20 million flowers pass through the auction house daily: 12.5 billion fl owers and plants in 2016 alone. Keeping these perishable plants and blooms moving quickly through the facility and the cool supply chain make Royal FloraHolland, despite its emotion-inducing product, a logistical wonder.

“It’s stone-cold logistics,” says Royal FloraHolland’s CEO Lucas Vos. In addition to domestic stems, every day eight to ten cargo freights of flowers arrive at Schiphol – from as far afield as Kenya, Israel and Ecuador – and have to be processed for sale at the auction. Although Royal FloraHolland ships by plane overseas, 95 per cent of its flowers stay in Europe and are dispersed mostly via refrigerated trucks to Germany, France and the UK. “This is the best logistical setup you can have,’ says Vos. ‘It’s all concentrated in one place. We’re right in the middle of those three main countries so it’s just perfect.”

When the Rijksmuseum was renovated in 2003, Japanese logistics company Nippon Express was the company responsible for moving out many of its treasures, including some of Rembrandt’s masterpieces. The company then kept the priceless artwork safely stored during a 10-year long renovation before moving them all back. And it’s not only fine arts that fall under the company’s logistics rubric: Nippon Express transports humans, too. ‘We first moved our own people to Europe, but then we branched out to include tourists,’ says General Manager of Logistics Robert Schaap.

A changing industry

Logistics in the 21st century also means Internet traffi c data management, and the non-profi t organisation Amsterdam Internet Exchange is the world’s largest neutral Internet Exchange Point (IXP). Established in 1997, the association promotes peering – or the exchange of Internet traffi c – within its 800 plus networks. ‘We keep the Internet fast, robust and open,’ says a company spokesman. It is indeed the rise of the digital world that has led to the biggest upheaval in traditional logistics operations. Logistics Company Aramex’s e-commerce clients include Zara, Nike and Mango. Whereas three years ago e-commerce wasn’t a part of the company’s business equation, today it accounts for 35 per cent of overall revenue. “E-commerce is constantly changing our industry,” says Klaassen of Aramex, which was originally a traditional forwarding company. “It was very price-driven then, with customers looking for the best deal and not at service. E-commerce is a different game. The consumer is more important than the customer.”

Focus on sustainability

Amsterdam’s unique combination of data and traditional infrastructure make it a world leader in logistics. ‘The city is internationally-focused. It’s open and outgoing and English speaking. We can find good people to work for us,’ says Klaassen. There are some 2,000 logistics companies in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, including the Japanese company Yusen Logistics and Crane Worldwide, which is building a state-of-the-art facility at Schiphol airport as ‘a key gateway’ into Europe.

In 2016, 157 new foreign companies set up shop in the Amsterdam area, all of them relying on the region’s logistics services. Many are drawn to Amsterdam because of its increasing focus on sustainability. Schiphol is working on environmental solutions including electric transport and renewable energy, while Amsterdam has set itself the goal of becoming emissions-free by 2025. It’s a legacy that would make the city’s Golden Age forefathers proud.