Decatur looking to build on Midwest Inland Port potential

As reported on herald-review.com by 

DECATUR — The development of the Midwest Inland Port is leading to new opportunities for businesses in the Decatur area.

The latest opportunity comes following the announcement Wednesday of a joint venture between transportation service company OmniTRAX Inc. and Topflight Grain Cooperative. OmniTRAX plans to begin managing the newly renamed Decatur Central Railroad LLC, a short-line railway connecting the Topflight facility in Cisco with plants at Archer Daniels Midland Co., Tate & Lyle and other processing companies in and around Macon County.

As it begins to operate the railway, OmniTRAX hopes to drive more business to and further rehabilitate the line, said Kevin Shuba, CEO of OmniTRAX, which is one of the largest privately held transportation service companies in North America and an affiliate of The Broe Group.

 “The Decatur Central Railroad is a great opportunity for OmniTRAX due to strong existing commodity flows, real estate driven expansion prospects and the potential to add new diversified business,” Shuba said. “Rail is the cheapest way to ship products.”

Topflight is increasingly using rail to transport its products as it operates about 20 facilities in Macon, Piatt, Douglas, Logan and Champaign counties, said Scott Docherty, CEO/general manager of Topflight Grain.

“Rail is an important part of what we do,” Docherty said. “We continue to handle more volume.”

Other area companies have already begun to realize the potential benefits from the area’s rail service that is highlighted through the Midwest Inland Port. T/CCI Manufacturing recently changed its shipping of products and supplies to take advantage of the opportunities created through a partnership between ADM and the Canadian National Railway, or CN, said Dennis Flaherty, T/CCI vice president and general manager.

He said the company needs the best connections possible between Decatur and other production and warehouse facilities around the world, including in China. Products had previously been routed through Joliet and trucked from there to Decatur, Flaherty said.

T/CCI is a manufacturer of heavy duty compressors and clutches for the mobile air-conditioning and refrigeration industries.

With the change, Flaherty said the shipments now come into Decatur on rail, significantly lessening the distance needed to truck from the ADM Intermodal Rail Ramp to the T/CCI facility at 2120 N. 22nd St. Its shipping capacity has nearly doubled by being able to use larger containers, said Kara Demirjian Huss, T/CCI vice president and global marketing director

“We can easily truck them here the three miles,” Demirjian Huss said. “We can get more here on one container.”

As a result of the changes, T/CCI is anticipating saving $400,000 a year in transportation costs, Demirjian Huss said. The company now has the potential to reinvest the money it saves in other assets to benefit the business such as people and technology, she said.

“We hope others see the impact the Midwest Inland Port has had,” Demirjian Huss said. “This partnership has had a true impact on us.”

The potential of the Midwest Inland Port was among the items discussed during a Business Development Forum organized by the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County held at the Decatur Civic Center.

Major customers using the railroad like having a lot of volume coming in at once, said Allison Fayfich, ADM’s third party intermodal business manager. Since April, Fayfich said two major customers have added to the volume of products moving through Decatur by utilizing the intermodal rail capabilities.

Companies with smaller amounts of products needing to be shipped can utilize the same services.

“It’s just going to get bigger,” Fayfich said.

CN is unique by being able to provide connections with all three coasts, said Chris Timmons, a senior solutions manager with the railroad company.

Moving products through Decatur can be a way of addressing issues in the Chicago area, said Christine Reed, a senior vice president with Knight Engineers and Architects.

“We can be a reliever for congestion in Northeastern Illinois,” Reed said. “They can come here. We have a tremendous potential for growth.”

OmniTRAX is interested in attracting mixed-use light industrial businesses to locate along the Decatur Central Railroad line, which runs along Illinois 48 before interchanging with CN just north of Decatur.

“Because of the congestion in Chicago, a lot of companies are looking for alternatives,” Shuba said. “We want to bring them to our railroad.”

OmniTRAX works with 350 industrial customers, some of which Shuba is hoping will be interested in expanding in the Decatur area.

The city of Decatur is working to improve its infrastructure to assist companies operating in the area, City Manager Tim Gleason said. Improvements such as an overpass along Brush College Road is one of the issues the city is addressing, Gleason said.

“At grade rail crossings are problematic for the community,” Gleason said. “With the Midwest Inland Port, we want to be in a position to provide the greatest opportunity and potential for the community.”

Decatur has an amazing potential for economic development, which is being highlighted by what’s being done through the Midwest Inland Port, said Ryan McCrady, EDC president.

“Decatur has a history of innovation,” McCrady said. “We can be a leader when it comes to innovation.”

McCrady said the innovations currently being made can benefit businesses of all sizes.

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