Full Steam Ahead

Rail yard has Marshall, Fayette emerging as viable distribution markets

By Amos Maki

A burgeoning distribution and logistics market for the Mid-South is taking root in the rich Delta soil in Marshall County, Miss., and Fayette County, Tenn.

Norfolk Southern Corp.’s intermodal yard in Rossville, Tenn., part of the railroad’s Crescent Corridor, has helped spark the burgeoning distribution market in Fayette County, Tenn., and Marshall County, Miss.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Industrial developers and their tenants, lured by the availability of large tracts of land, major infrastructure enhancements, a new intermodal facility and friendly, focused public policy, are increasingly targeting the area.

“We are seeing a new industrial submarket for Memphis coming out of the ground,” said Grant Cothran, manager of intermodal development for Norfolk Southern Corp., which operates a large intermodal yard in Rossville, Tenn., that has helped spark the burgeoning market.

The rise of the new market did not happen overnight. Marshall County has been patiently plotting its emergence as a viable distribution and logistics hub for years.

In 1993, the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority authorized the creation of the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park area, where multiple land owners joined together to create 3,600 acres of developable industrial property nestled in a triangle of major roadways.

“There were some visionaries in the planning process here that saw an opportunity,” said Justin Hall, project manager for the development authority. “They were looking to the future.”

After years of careful planning and major infrastructure improvements to turn what was rural farmland into a major zone for commerce, the future is now for Marshall County.

Exel was the first company to locate a major facility in Chickasaw Trail, selecting the industrial area in 2005 for a 750,000-square-foot distribution center. In 2009, Asics America Corp. picked Chickasaw Trail for a 500,000-square-foot distribution center. In May, Roxul Inc., a Danish maker of stone or rock wool insulation, broke ground on a $160 million, 600,000-square-foot production facility.

Just across the state line in Fayette County, MCR Safety has opened a $19 million, 500,000-square-foot distribution facility.

State lines have largely been blurred in the region thanks to a laser-like focus on economic development and job creation.

William Adair owns a substantial amount of land on both sides of the state line and his WCA Land & Development formed a joint venture with Panattoni Development Co. to develop the 1,500-acre Gateway Global Logistics Center industrial development, which straddles Fayette and Marshall counties.

Panattoni is currently building a 554,000-square-foot speculative warehouse that is expandable to 1.3 million square feet in the roughly 1,000-acre Marshall County portion of the industrial park.

Jim Mercer, the executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis Memphis who is handling leasing at Gateway, said the nearby Norfolk Southern intermodal yard, built on land owned by Adair, and an expanding network of major highways, including the construction of Interstate 269, are contributing to increased activity in the area.

“Interest has been growing and it’s really picking up steam now,” said Mercer.

Gateway is located adjacent to Norfolk Southern’s $100 million, 380-acre intermodal yard in Rossville, which opened last year and has more than 12,000 feet of track for working trains.

The intermodal yard is part of the railway’s Crescent Corridor project, a $2.5 billion project to establish an efficient, high-capacity intermodal freight route between the Northeast and the Gulf Coast.

From July 2012 to December 2012, the intermodal yard, which operates 24 hours a day, handled 47,158 lifts on and off rail cars. That number jumped 15.8 percent over the same period in 2013, helping to increase the total number of lifts last year to 106,424.

As the intermodal yard grows and attracts more business, so will its economic impact in the region. An analysis by the Association of American Railroads estimated the Rossville intermodal facility will have a 10-year economic impact of more than $2.7 billion and will create 6,200 jobs by 2020 in the Memphis region, including Fayette County and North Mississippi.

“All of the economic impact, the jobs and investment, it’s the infrastructure that allows all of that other investment to take place,” Cothran said. “The future of intermodal is bright and the future of Rossville is very bright.”

Panattoni and Norfolk Southern are continuing the spirit of cooperation that has marked the development of the region, promoting their facilities to each other’s prospects.

“It’s a strong partnership and it really needs to be,” Cothran said. “Without the connecting pieces, the interstates, the real estate, it doesn’t really work. Available, developable land, that’s one of the must-haves in terms of where we locate terminals and where we expand.”