In its most recent session, the Utah Legislature passed a bill designating an approximately 4,000-acre area just a few minutes from the Salt Lake City International Airport in the northwest quadrant as an inland port. Salt Lake City has already started work to bring power, internet and other infrastructure to the area, aptly named the SLC Port Global Logistics Center, with the hopes of attracting several distribution companies to the area. In addition, the new prison will be located there, and major distribution companies like Amazon and UPS have already set up shop nearby.
The inland port designation, combined with a currently-under-renovation international airport, is poised to create a new concentration of logistics and e-commerce businesses in the state. But with Utah becoming even more of a transportation hub, stakeholders must walk the line to ensure impacts on air quality, traffic, housing, and the environment are considered.
Infrastructure Designed To Scale
Lara Fritts, director of the department of economic development for Salt Lake City, says the city has been preparing for an inland port for a number of years. “The conversation really came to the front burner within the last couple of years, so the city has taken a number of steps to move forward with an inland port,” she says. “We have planned for infrastructure, rail connectivity, roads, sewer, and water. We have even started to recruit companies to the northwest quadrant. We have zoned the area primarily as M2, which is a light manufacturing district. That gives us great flexibility because companies can do manufacturing, logistics, and distribution, but we can also do retail, hotel, and restaurants.”
Ms. Fritts says the area is already a bustling zone of e-commerce and logistics—pointing to Amazon’s more than 800,000-square-foot facility and UPS’s one million-square-foot facility as examples—and with the inland port designation, that will just become more apparent. Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and outgoing president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, agrees.
“Utah is a very geographically and strategically located state,” he says. “That’s why we’ve been known since our settlement as the crossroads of the West. It was true in pioneer times, and that was true with the joining of the transcontinental railroad, and it was true with the building of the north-south-east-west freeway system. It remains true today. What we’re talking about with an inland port is certainly a component to Utah becoming a global trade center.”
Two Utah companies, Colmena Group and Wadsworth Development Group, are general partners at the center and are responsible for the development and construction there. “The inland port concept has the potential to make a huge impact on the economy of Utah,” says Lance Bullen, President of Colmena Group and General Partner of the SLC Port Global Logistics Center. “We are so strategically located from a rail and highway standpoint. With the airport being remodeled and state prison being here and master planning going on with the governmental entities involved, [the inland port will be] a very unique asset. There’s not this much land this close to a major city and an international airport along a major freeway and a rail line anywhere else in the western United States.”
Mr. Bullen notes that a major trend in consumer behavior is that the percentage of online sales grows by 10 percentage points or more annually, and for every $1 billion of online sales, one million square feet of industrial space is required. “The connectivity of logistics just becomes the future,” he says. “This [inland port] is kind of the ‘X’ on the map for a lot of those things to come together.”
Kip Wadsworth, managing partner at Wadsworth Development Group and General Partner of the SLC Port Global Logistics Center, adds that the area is also equal distance from places along the coast, like Long Beach, California and Seattle. Through the inland port, goods will be able to be shipped from places like Asia, through the port into Salt Lake City, and then out via rail to places along the coast. “There’s over 1,900 miles of rail inside Utah hooking all our rural counties in to each other, so those who are growing alfalfa or have dairy products or mining products can put them on a train, send them to the inland port and then have the train go from there to a sea port and ship them out worldwide,” he adds. “That’s going to open up a lot of jobs in the rural counties.”
Designed With The Environment In Mind
Ms. Fritts says the way Salt Lake City has gone about planning for the inland port has been done in a manner that makes sure the city is a good steward of the environment. “The property owners negotiated with environmental organizations to dedicate a 4,000-foot buffer against the Great Salt Lake, so no developments will take place there. There is also an additional 400 feet around that buffer where limited development can take place,” she says.
Mr. Miller says when it comes to any and all environmental issues, stakeholders are already inviting feedback from the community and asking consultants to weigh in. “The work has already started, but it’s far from being concluded and we don’t have all the answers yet,” he says. “We certainly recognize whatever we come up with needs to include [concern for] air quality, housing, the environment and transportation. I’m confident we can do this in the right way. It doesn’t need to be controversial. We just need to have the right people advocating the right issues around the table.”
As for air quality, Ms. Fritts says Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski is deeply committed to sustainable practices, which is why one of the first things the city asks companies into the area is about their sustainable practices. “The companies that are choosing the northwest quadrant are being very mindful, are transitioning their fleets and want to be good partners with us,” Ms. Fritts says.
Mr. Miller says the business community is very concerned about traffic issues in that region, which is why everything has to be planned and executed in a very strategic way. “We can’t let it grow by happenstance,” he says. “If we’re going to put 50,000 to 60,000 new jobs in that area, where there are zero homes, people are going to need transportation getting to work. That will be an issue.”
Ms. Fritts says Salt Lake City is already looking at ways to alleviate traffic woes—but nothing has been decided on yet. “We’ve also had ongoing conversations with UTA and the state to create a network that will allow for continuous movement for vehicles,” Ms. Fritts says. “We are talking about how we will bring transit to one of the major employment centers in not only Salt Lake City, but also the state of Utah.”
Mr. Bullen says one of the big goals his company has had all along is to enhance the rail network in the northwest quadrant in a major way, which will in turn reduce semi-trucks on local highways and freeways. “You can move a ton of freight 400 miles on a gallon of diesel, which makes rail one of the most efficient modes of transit,” he says. “We also want to be able to invest in types of technology that produce lower emissions. Modern rail facilities are the hallmark for efficiency. We can use electric trains, equipment and materials that don’t adversely impact air quality. I also think co-locating our buildings as close as possible to these transit zones does reduce trip times trucks are taking, which makes a much more efficient, lower cost solution.”
Mr. Bullen adds that Colmena Group also intends to incorporate efficient design features, such as solar panels and charging stations, to help increase efficiency in the area. At this time the area is not zoned for housing because it’s always been viewed solely as an employment center, Ms. Fritts says. In addition, it also falls within the airport’s flight path, so housing will most likely not be constructed in the area.
The Future Of The Port
While construction is already underway in the northwest quadrant, the completion of the project is still decades away. Ms. Fritts says, according to calculations the Salt Lake City has done, completion of the port will not take place for 35 to 40 years, as long as all things remain equal—meaning the state or nation doesn’t face an economic downturn.
Once the port is complete, it will be a catalyst in keeping Utah at the forefront of growth in the nation, Mr. Miller says. “The inland port is the best thing we could do for the state’s economy over the next 40 to 50 years,” he says. “The world economy is going through a shift where distribution, logistics, fulfillment and e-commerce are more important than ever before. We have an opportunity to capitalize on those trends, including the growth of global trade and position of Utah as a strong competitor. The inland port takes Utah from the crossroads of the west to the crossroads of the world. That’s the vision and that’s our opportunity.”