Business

More cargo at Eastern Iowa Airport stirs 'recipe for success'

Business parks and planned freight facility add to area's allure

Airport Director Martin Lenss speaks to dignitaries and others gathered Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a cargo expansion project at The Eastern Iowa Airport in southwest Cedar Rapids. The expansion will be the dimensions of three football fields wide and one and a half football fields deep, he said. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Airport Director Martin Lenss speaks to dignitaries and others gathered Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a cargo expansion project at The Eastern Iowa Airport in southwest Cedar Rapids. The expansion will be the dimensions of three football fields wide and one and a half football fields deep, he said. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — With the ceremonial plunge of nine shovels, local, state and federal officials have broken ground on a more-than-$10 million overhaul of The Eastern Iowa Airport’s cargo facilities.

While the airport expansion project — driven by an exponential increase in cargo traffic — will completely revamp the airport’s freight capacity and could allow for more commercial and cargo traffic, it’s just one of several components turning the southern Cedar Rapids area into a sweet spot for freight, industrial and manufacturing growth.

“This land all around us is development-ready, providing a great opportunity to recruit business,” Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said during Wednesday’s groundbreaking. “This project gives us an opportunity to widen that lens.”

When finished in late 2019, the airport expansion will be positioned south of two of Iowa’s largest build-ready industrial sites — a 1,300-acre industrial park and nearly 600-acre logistics and manufacturing park — and a proposed intermodal facility poised to be a one-of-a-kind freight center for the state.

Brian Crowe, director of business attraction with regional economic development group ICR Iowa, said it’s hardly coincidence the four projects landed in such proximity.

“I think it was taking advantage of one thing after another,” Crowe said. “I think that those pieces coming together was a bit of luck, but a lot of really good planning at the end of the day.”

Airport cargo facility

Eastern Iowa Airport officials in September announced they had secured an $8.8 million Federal Aviation Administration grant, the largest discretionary grant the airport has ever received in a single year.

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The proposal is to relocate the airport’s cargo facilities away from the main terminal building, expand the west cargo apron area and build a connecting taxiway to allow for a joint-use cargo center. Airport Director Marty Lenss said the project will be the dimensions of three football fields wide and one and a half football fields deep.

Doing so will boost the airport’s freight capacity — something Michael Arndt, area human resources manager with UPS in Des Moines, said is much needed.

He noted UPS is up about 10 to 12 percent in inbound volume and about 8 percent outbound volume at the Cedar Rapids airport compared with previous years. “It’s long overdue,” he said.

All told, The Eastern Iowa Airport’s year-to-date cargo volume is up more than 20 percent, with the facility handling about 45 percent of the state’s total cargo volume. The airport could reach half of all Iowa air cargo traffic by the end of the year, Lenss said.

From 2008 to 2017, the airport’s share of cargo increased from 29 to 44 percent, according to airport data.

In the same span, the Des Moines International Airport saw its share of state cargo traffic drop from 71 to 56 percent.

Lenss said the Cedar Rapids growth has largely been driven by online shopping and e-commerce, with the airport able to reach millions of customers within a day’s drive thanks to nearby highways, including Interstates 80 and 380.

”This particular development really starts to set us up for an air cargo complex that meets that growing demand in e-commerce, as well and servicing the increasing needs of a lot of our local employers,” Lenss said.

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The relocation of cargo facilities also opens up the door for future expansion to the airport’s terminal and commercial flight offerings.

The airport currently is in the midst of a terminal modernization project — Phase 3 is estimated at about $31 million — to add 54,000 square feet to the terminal, build two new jet bridges and expand other offerings. A fourth and final phase still is being planned.

Super and mega parks

Certified in 2015, the Cedar Rapids Land and Air Super Park, located off Wright Brothers Boulevard SW north of the airport, boasts 582 acres of build-ready land. About 480 of those are airport-owned.

To secure Iowa Economic Development Authority certification, a site must have at least 500 acres and meet eight criteria including the ability to provide a million gallons of water per day and 32,500 million cubic feet of natural gas per month within nine months, immediate access to rail and be within 5 miles of an interstate.

The following year, in 2016, the state’s first certified mega industrial park — the Big Cedar Industrial Center — was announced by Iowa Land and Building, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy.

The 1,300-acre site is bound by Edgewood Road SW to the east, 76th Avenue SW on the south, Lefebure Road SW to the west and a portion of the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway, or CRANDIC, to the north.

As certified parks, the sites have some of the early development steps already complete, such as environmental impact studies. The hope, Crowe said, is that doing so in advance shortens the time frame for potential businesses looking for a site, thus making the area more attractive.

While Iowa eventually fell out of the running, Toyota-Mazda last year considered Iowa a possible home for a joint venture $1.6 billion car manufacturing plant. The site under consideration was the Big Cedar Industrial Center.

But there have not been any major developments on either site so far, Crowe said.

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“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from companies who maybe we never got to look at us in the past because we didn’t have the tracts of land kind of pulled together as we do now,” he said. “We’re up taking swings at the plate because this land has been vetted and reviewed and now we’re positioning it for a development opportunity.”

Crowe said planned upgrades to cargo facilities at the airport and Iowa Department of Transportation’s plans to build an intermodal freight facility near Edgewood Road and the CRANDIC should only make those industrial sites all the more attractive to businesses.

“I think proximity to infrastructure assets is a huge opportunity,” Crowe said. “Having land that’s available there for companies there is a regional benefit.”

New freight facility

In 2016, the Iowa DOT announced it had secured a $25.7 million grant to build a full-service intermodal facility southwest of Highway 30 and just north of the Big Cedar Industrial Center.

The $46.5 million Cedar Rapids Logistics Park is planned to incorporate three components: intermodal facilities for freight-to-truck transfer and vice versa; a cross-docking facility for truck-to-truck transfers; and a bulk freight storage and transfer operation.

The facility would ease the movement of freight between trucks, rail cars and shipping containers, allowing a more efficient and economical movement of goods.

Iowa’s only intermodal facility is in Council Bluffs, which includes facilities for just one of the three freight components planned for the Cedar Rapids site. Having all three in a single location will help set the region and state apart, said Craig Markley, director of Iowa DOT’s office of systems planning.

Markley said work currently is underway on an environmental analysis for the site, with hopes of completing that this year. After that, work can begin on a full design, he added.

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“Certainly you’ve got great access to U.S. 30, you’ve got great access with I-380, you’ve got the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City railroad and Edgewood Road ... it’s a great spot, specifically with the certified site efforts that have been going on,” Markley said.

Markley said the logistics park is anticipated to result in millions of dollars in savings over a 20-year period including:

• The intermodal component is expected to save shippers nearly $264.8 million

• The cross-dock component is expected to save shippers more than $260.8 million

• The transload component is expected to save shippers more than $37.4 million

• The facility is expected to provide $292.7 million in benefits from avoided crashes

• The facility is expected to provide about $61.2 million in emission reduction benefits

In addition, Jeff Woods, director of business development and marketing with Alliant Energy Transportation, said the logistics park fits perfectly into the larger picture with the nearby airport expansion and two certified development parks, creating a “recipe for success.”

“You have an economic development park that lures a big client because you have an airport freight facility next to it and you’ve got our logistics hub next to it,” Woods said. “It’s something that will feed off itself once the ball starts rolling and you start to land certain types of industries. I think it’s just a matter of time before it starts filling everything up out there.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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