As Will County's go-to person for economic development, John Greuling may be one of the most qualified to comment on the booming pace of development experienced with CenterPoint Properties' two intermodals in Joliet and Elwood.
“The speed of the development has been the most shocking,” said Greuling, longtime president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development. “I don't think anybody anticipated the rate of the development and the density of development we've seen in the last 12, 13 years.”
The Oak Brook-based CenterPoint announced earlier this year a handful of projects that will lead to the Joliet industrial park being halfway built out.
The latest projects in Joliet include a 406,000-square-foot distribution facility for Neovia Logistics Services, a four-acre container yard for Bridge Terminal Transport adjacent to the Union Pacific Intermodal Yard, and a 485,476-square-foot speculative building not yet sold or leased.
At full capacity, the Joliet intermodal will total about 3,500 acres and 20 million square feet of building space, Eric Gilbert, senior vice president of infrastructure and logistics at CenterPoint, said in an email. Elwood's 2,500-acre industrial park is essentially built out.
Opponents of CenterPoint's development point to the increasing number of semitrailers seen driving on local roads and interstates, but supporters argue the two facilities' success as a transportation hub makes its one-of-a-kind in the Midwest.
Changing global market
Greuling said much of the fast-paced expansion at CenterPoint's two intermodals – which, combined, is among the largest inland ports in North America – has to do with timing.
The world was experiencing a major shift in the global supply chain in the early 2000s – right around the time CenterPoint Properties targeted the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant near Elwood for development, Greuling said. Manufactured goods from Mexico, Canada and Europe were declining, he said, while goods from the Pacific Rim and China were taking off.
Those goods wound up in the Midwest via two major West Coast rail lines – BNSF and Union Pacific – which now serve the CenterPoint's two intermodal facilities, he said.
“That major shift in the global supply chain was going on,” Greuling said. “Whether, it was genius or luck or a combination of all of that, I think the timing couldn't have been better.”
'Time is money'
Mark Schneidewind, manager for the Will County Farm Bureau, said CenterPoint's presence in Joliet and Elwood has greatly improved the local farming industry's operations. He said he's excited about the development of a trans-load facility for Saturn Agriculture to help transfer local soybeans and dried distilled grains into international containers.
The addition of Saturn will provide better competitive prices for commodities, he said.
“We've already had quite a few exports in this area already, so now we'll have yet another one. The competition is good for farmers,” Schneidewind said. “When you take a look at everybody sharpening their pencils … to a farmer, that's good. Instead of only having to worry about selling to one, now there's four or five options and the competition will drive the price up.”
The addition of new technology at DeLong Company, a grain exporter in CenterPoint that ships grain and ethanol byproducts worldwide, has quickened the pace goods can be loaded into containers and shipped off.
Companies at the Joliet and Elwood intermodals shipped 110 million bushels, mostly corn and soybeans, for export markets in 2013.
“Time is money and they understand that,” Schneidewind said, noting CenterPoint's prime location near two major interstates – I-55 and I-80 – and nearby waterways.
Increased truck traffic
But as more development rolls into the area, so do trucks. Elwood officials are all too familiar with CenterPoint's fast-paced development and the trucks that come with it.
The village and CenterPoint are involved in an ongoing Illinois Commerce Commission case concerning increased truck traffic at a railroad crossing along Route 53 near its own intermodal. The gates at Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing near the Elwood intermodal were broken nearly 50 times last year.
Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said he's concerned future developments at the Joliet intermodal will lead to even more traffic spilling over from Route 53 into Elwood.
“No one is disputing what CenterPoint has done for the area, but it should not be done at the sacrifice and endangerment of public safety,” said Hayes, who served 31 years in the Joliet Police Department, including five as chief. “Certainly with the increased volume of commercial truck traffic mixed with residential areas, the potential for fatalities increase.”
In an email, Gilbert said CenterPoint frequently reaches out to trucking companies and other tenants to encourage use of other routes, such as I-55 and Arsenal Road. Earlier this year, the developer erected billboards along Interstate 80 and Route 53 to promote the use of other routes.