Southern Oklahoma doesn’t normally spring to mind as a hub for global trade, but economic leaders hope a new 200-acre logistics park will be a catalyst for growth for inbound cargo and exports.
Federal, state and local officials recently broke ground on the site of the $124 million Global Transportation & Industrial Park of Oklahoma (GTIP) in the town of Ardmore.
GTIP is planned as an inland port to create opportunities for air, rail and truck transport, as well as construction of facilities for transloading, warehousing, distribution and manufacturing.
“GTIP will be the first logistics park of its kind in Oklahoma,” Mita Bates, president and CEO of the Ardmore Development Authority, told FreightWaves. “The ability to offer import, export and air capacity matched with other intermodal transportation will provide access to markets across the globe from Ardmore, Oklahoma.”
Ardmore is a town of more than 24,000 located along Interstate 35, about 90 miles equidistant from Oklahoma City and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
GTIP is being developed at the Ardmore Industrial Airpark, a commercial airstrip with a rail spur from the BNSF Railway main line. Dollar General currently has a shipping hub there.
GTIP is scheduled to be fully operational by 2024.
While Oklahoma officials tout GTIP’s location, Thomas Keane, a partner with New Harbor Consultants, told FreightWaves that to be successful, inland ports need to give shippers, freight forwarders and transportation providers a compelling reason to locate there, or use the facilities.
Concord, Massachusetts-based New Harbor Consultants is a management consulting firm serving clients in the transportation, logistics, high-tech, industrial, consumer and financial services sectors.
“For Ardmore, who’s the target consumer and shipper audience, and in which direction are the freight flows going?” Keane said. “They have an initial anchor tenant with Dollar General for inbound volume, but can they attract other distribution tenants and enough export volume to gain critical mass?”
Keane added, “On the export side, one would need to explore the volume of exports from the local area, and the economics of their current flow patterns – are they being shipped through West Coast ports, or through Houston? Are they currently traveling all the way to the port by truck or are they moving by rail, and if so, from where? How long are the drays now, and would an Ardmore facility reduce them significantly?”
Ardmore is on a BNSF line from Houston, but not on the straight route from BNSF coming from the West Coast, rather it’s on the north-south line.
“If you’re BNSF loading a train from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, you probably want to maximize your revenue on it, so you tailor your service offering to send the train all the way to Chicago. That yields good headhaul revenue and a good chance at a backhaul. Would the railroad have as good a chance for a backhaul from Ardmore – if the headhaul was from the West Coast, if the headhaul was from Houston?,” Keane said.
Some potential benchmarks for drayage distances for exports include: the BMW plant in Greer, South Carolina, is 6 miles from Inland Port Greer. The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is less than 40 miles from the Appalachian Regional Port in Chatsworth. The proposed inland port in Gainesville, Georgia, would have an average dray of less than 30 minutes, according to the Hall County Chamber of Commerce.
“One would also need to consider that AllianceTexas is just about 80 miles south [of GTIP],” Keane said. “As a shipper, you would have to have a compelling reason – a business case – to go to Ardmore instead of AllianceTexas.”
Keane produced a white paper on inland ports titled “Inland Ports: On Track for Growth,” which discussed what it takes for new inland ports to succeed.
Keane said key factors include demand for freight transportation services at a specific location, ties to a successful ocean, air or rail port, open acreage, access to a mainline intermodal rail route, and an anchor client.
Sites that have done well include the Kansas City SmartPort, Inland Port Greer (South Carolina), Appalachian Regional Port (Georgia) and AllianceTexas, Keane said.
“Some of the main examples are inland ports in South Carolina and Georgia tied to the ocean container port in their state. Shippers are trying to get around port congestion in places like Savannah, or major traffic congestion like Atlanta, and also get around high warehousing costs,” Keane said.
Keane said Ardmore is also not at the end of any Class I railroad lines, like Chicago.
“Chicago is at the end of the line for four different Class I railroads,” Keane said. “That’s one key reason, in addition to the size of the local market, why so many companies are interested in having warehouses there,” Keane said. “It’s not a coincidence that cities like Chicago, Memphis and Kansas City are successful logistics hubs: All of these are the major meeting points for the Class I railroads.”
This is the Outbound Tender Market Share Index that measures the relative percentage of outbound tender volumes in each market in the U.S. They all add up to 100. So the Oklahoma City market — which includes Ardmore — accounted for .64% of the total outbound truckload demand recently, much smaller than markets such as Chicago (Juliet), Kansas City and Dallas in the SONAR chart below. — Zach Strickland, FreightWaves market expert
Another key to success is whether an inland port can reach freight volumes of 10,000 to 20,000 railcar lifts per year, according to Keane.
But Michele Bowling, senior director of sales at Watco Cos., said there is already demand for the location and site.
GTIP is a public-private partnership agreement between property owner Ardmore Development Authority and WP Global Holdings LLC. WP Global is a joint venture among Watco, Knightsbridge Partners and the Chickasaw Nation.
“We are finalizing the first phase of rail design, but we would target more than 20,000 annual lifts, with room to grow. Additionally, our initial plans could handle approximately 15,000 railcars annually,” Bowling said.
Pittsburg, Kansas-based Watco is a single-source transportation and supply chain services company with locations throughout North America and Australia. The company also operates over 5,500 miles of short line track in North America and Australia.
“Global air cargo is forecasted to grow 4% over the next couple of decades, and GTIP positions Ardmore to be able to be a key part of the foundation needed to handle that growth right here in southern Oklahoma,” Bowling said.
Bowling said they have had conversations with a variety of potential customers, including possible anchor tenants from a manufacturing and distribution perspective.
“There is a large network of local distribution centers who may find value in adjusting their supply chains to save on the time and costs associated with shorter drays that a direct Ardmore intermodal option would provide,” Bowling said. “We are talking to a wide array of key stakeholders who are needed to bring our vision to light, including airlines, freight forwarders, integrators, beneficial cargo owners, ground handlers and the local community.”
GTIP’s plan includes $99 million for infrastructure improvements and $26 million for new warehouse, manufacturing and distribution facilities. The plan also includes a 10,000-square-foot customs facility, solar power generators and charging station for electric vehicles.
WP Global is pursuing federal grants to assist with funding for the air cargo and rail portions of the project.
“[GTIP] will enable air cargo to travel more efficiently throughout the region as well as attract companies interested in reaching major U.S. markets in a fraction of the time it typically would take,” U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said in a statement.
Oklahoma exported $5.37 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2020, according to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Its top exports were industrial machinery ($1.9 billion), electric machinery ($711 million), aircraft, spacecraft and parts ($664 million), chemical products ($430 million), medical or surgical Instruments ($360 million), and vehicles ($257 million).
Oklahoma’s top international trading partners in 2020 were Canada ($1.4 billion), Mexico ($501 million), Germany ($462 million), Japan ($257 million) and the Netherlands ($229 million).
The Tulsa Port Of Catoosa is the state’s largest port, accounting for 2 million tons of total freight and 1,241 barges in 2020. The port is in Tulsa, along the Arkansas River.
Bates said the Ardmore Development Authority believes the project will be successful because it is served by all modes of transportation and has room to grow.
“The extension of the primary runway at Ardmore Industrial Airpark 10 years ago laid the foundation for potential development. Initial discussions concerning the current development began in the spring of 2019 based on the study by Russell Evans on Oklahoma air cargo expansion and has continued to evolve since that time,” Bates said.
Evans, interim dean and professor of economics at Oklahoma City University, projects that GTIP could create up 18,653 jobs with $1.2 billion in new labor income and generate an economic impact of up to $3.8 billion in the state, according to a release.
“85% of the U.S. can be reached by truck within 48 hours, and the uncongested air and ground traffic flow make GTIP a premier location,” Bates said.
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