One of Utah’s biggest job and economic opportunities is development of a Global TradePort in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City.
The opportunity is large because, ironically, in this digital era of teleconferencing and telecommuting — when people can connect instantly via text, audio and video with anyone anywhere across the country and the world — physical travel and delivery of tangible products and goods are more important than ever.
This is the case, in part, because global communications and electronic commerce result in more and more products being shipped via ocean-going tankers, freight trains, big trucks, freight airplanes and local delivery trucks. The digital world actually produces more travel and shipping in the physical world.
It is not uncommon, for example, for a small Utah company to source materials and supplies from China or Vietnam. Perishable fruits and vegetables from Mexico show up in local grocery stores fresh and ready to eat.
And that behemoth that is disrupting the retail sector, Amazon, has added an immense number of rail cars, big trucks and delivery vans to the transportation system.
This large and growing shipping and delivery sector requires intermodal logistics centers where products and goods are quickly and efficiently transferred among rail cars, semi-trucks, airplanes and local delivery vans. Large distribution centers, warehousing, value-added manufacturing and assembly, packaging, customs services and just-in-time delivery are required to keep these immense operations humming 24 hours a days, seven days a week.
This is not your grandpa’s distribution system. It is ultra-high-tech, with computers, algorithms, robots, scheduling software and expensive machinery conquering daunting complexity so that a birthday gift ordered on Amazon arrives two days later.
While serving as chair of the board of World Trade Center Utah, I have watched as Utah’s international trade has blossomed over the last several years, greatly benefiting Utah’s economy. A Global TradePort would further boost Utah’s trade opportunities, while also benefiting domestic shipping and logistics services.
No location in the Intermountain West is better positioned to serve this large and growing industry than Salt Lake City — the Crossroads of the West — where several essential components come together: interstate freeways going north and south and east and west; a brand new international airport with plenty of capacity for freight; an already existing, and very busy, intermodal trucking and freight logistics center with warehousing and distribution; interstate rail services; and several thousand undeveloped acres in a perfect location to take advantage of all these components. The frosting on the cake is a new state prison being constructed nearby, which will facilitate development of utilities and other infrastructure in the general area.
Multiple studies have documented the potential of this opportunity. Gov. Gary Herbert convened the Inland Port Study Committee, chaired by World Trade Center Utah CEO Derek Miller, and Val Hale, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
After several meetings and an encouraging feasibility study, the committee voted unanimously to continue the effort by asking Salt Lake City and the Legislature to review approaches to create a governance authority.
Salt Lake City is understandably protective of its planning and zoning authority and its existing plans for the area. Others point out that this opportunity is much bigger than the city. It will impact the entire state and region.4 comments on this story
As World Trade Center Utah Board chair, I encourage all stakeholders, in the spirit of cooperation, to collaboratively resolve the governance issues, which seem to be: Does the city or state create the authority? Who sits on it? And what authority does it have?
Those are sticky issues, but they are certainly not insurmountable.
Together, we can create a busy and vibrant Global TradePort that features 21st century, high-tech manufacturing, product assembly and shipping and logistics that encompass sectors such as robotics, aerospace, composites and advanced materials and medical products. Let’s not let this amazing opportunity slip by.