The 2-year-old dream of Harvey County leaders is little more than an empty field today, with some new streets at Newton’s southeast corner.
But soon, the first projects at the Kansas Logistics Park — a 500-acre park with growth potential — will begin emerging from the ground, the first two businesses in the park’s drive to become a Midwest manufacturing and logistics hub.
In February, New Millennium Wind Energy will begin work on its 50,000-square-foot facility to manufacture a vertical-axis wind turbine, designed and built by Dondlinger Construction and TranSystems.
A few months later, Tindall Corporation will begin work on its manufacturing plant, a 200,000-square-foot plant for the manufacture of wind turbine nacelles. Between the two, Newton and Harvey County officials expect to add 750 jobs within the next five years.
And they’re just getting started in their bid to be a building and storage point for worldwide importers and exporters, using an agreement signed last summer with the nation’s most inland port, the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa. City and county leaders are working on a management authority to govern the park, raise revenue and deal with potential new clients, a structure not unlike the Oklahoma port’s authority.
It has been a whirlwind 24 months since a private study urged Newton and Harvey County leaders to take advantage of the area’s transportation resources: U.S. 50, I-135, proximity to rail and air service, and proximity to the Port of Catoosa.
The park takes advantage of the overlapping connections to both rail and major interstates. It has ample land for enclosed warehousing and outside storage. It has a “full pipeline” of prospective new tenants, along with a handful of amazed public officials who set the park up.
“I think it would be the absolute truth to tell you that I’m very surprised,” said John Waltner, Harvey County’s administrator and president of the newly formed Kansas Logistics Park Development Authority. “And very pleasantly so.”
“This is a real game-changer, a real boost to this region,” Newton City Manager Randy Riggs said. “It’s a big piece of our future one more element that our region should be celebrating.”
A veteran Kansas economic developer agreed.
“The role that park is going to play in the region is substantial,” said Harland Priddle, the former Kansas commerce secretary who now heads the K-96 Corridor Development Association. “They’re in an extremely good position.”
Priddle believes in a “Triangle of Prosperity,” from Hutchinson east along U.S. 50 to Newton, then south down the interstate to Wichita before running northwest along K-96 — a region where wind power and other manufacturing will boom in the coming decades.
“The role the logistics park plays is to provide a crucial corner anchor in the triangle, like a shopping center,” he said. “They have a great future as an outlet of transportation for major products from this area and their clients, not just grain.
“And it’s a shovel-ready site attractive to any number of high-level industrial clients.”
Projects and potential
Wind energy is the park’s initial focus, but officials say diversity — especially logistics-related for shippers — is a coming attraction. And the management of the park is a work in progress as well, with the Kansas Logistics Park Development Authority structuring itself using the port authority as a model.
The current focus is a series of major infrastructure projects, either completed or on the drawing board.
On Oct. 31, the Kansas Department of Transportation awarded more than $2.3 million in economic development funds to the park project. Allocations include $1.18 million for road improvements at the park, $545,000 for rail improvements for Tindall and another $591,000 for rail to serve New Millennium.
In addition, KDOT made available $788,000 in available loans for other rail improvements. Most of the access roads to the park have either been improved or are scheduled for improvement for industrial traffic.
Another big project for the park’s future is the evolving development authority, which will be charged with the management and marketing of the logistics park. One possible model is the Port of Catoosa, which operates out of an administrative building at the port, managing industrial development and real estate, transportation options, docks, terminals and port marketing.
“Our hope through what we come up with for the organization is the ability to continue to work with any expansion opportunities and operate the park internally,” Waltner said. “It’s not a very clear model, at this point.”
Revenue generation will be one key goal, and officials have already taken one significant step in that direction with the formation of a rail utility for the park. Rail operations, critical to the shipping needs of the park’s clients, will be subcontracted out, Waltner said.
“We view this as an opportunity to provide consistent service to clients, sure, but also as a potential source of revenue to do the things logistics parks do,” he said.
While the park has begun with wind power, there are large numbers of logistics-related opportunities, said Troy Carlson, a Kansas City-based economic development consultant who is working on the project.
“It is a simple straightforward equation,” he said. “We have resources in North America — Mexico, the United States and Canada — that the rest of the world doesn’t have. We have arable land and these other countries have more mouths to feed and less places to grow that food. We have to figure out ways like this to get that food to them efficiently.”
So agriculture is one logistics opportunity: Warehouses to store foodstuffs for export. Technology — like wind power — is another. And so is retailing, Carlson said.
“A focus on getting product to the department stores is one big opportunity,” he said. “Getting commodities in and out of the country is another.”
And wind power is the best example.
“It’s a huge logistically intensive thing, bulky to get around, and we’re right in the middle of the wind belt in the Midwest,” Carlson said. “Another example of how well positioned we are.”
Officials credit an admittedly unusual level of intergovernmental cooperation between the city of Newton, Harvey County and the county’s economic development group for the progress of the last two years.
“It’s the only way any of this would have been accomplished,” Riggs said. “It’s way too big for the city or the county or the EDC to do on their own. It’s the only way to do something like this, and you’d have to say that it’s worked very well.”
“We don’t see every deal similarly, but the big picture, the vision, is there with all of us, and people are very supportive,” Waltner said.
The county administrator is not surprised by the park any more.
“It really can happen,” Waltner said. “We think that given the kind of counsel we’ve sought, the way we’ve thought and acted on development, a lot of great things are falling into place. None of us are complaining.”