CEO PERSPECTIVE: Building Better Communities Through Industrial Development

Written by Dean Piacente, CEO, OmniTRAX

As part of a special series in Railway Age’s March 2021 issue, 11 North American railroad CEOs address the daunting challenges the freight rail industry faces as the 21st century enters its third decade—from operations and technology to marketing and growth. Here, Dean Piacente, CEO of OmniTRAX, discusses his company’s “hyper-localized approach” to growth within the towns and counties served.

Growing American communities: Many industries claim to have a focus on bringing economic growth to our nation’s cities and towns, but few actually prove it day in and day out. America’s railroads are a notable exception.  

Railroads have long been leaders in creating and growing American communities, going back to the westward expansion of the country nearly 200 years ago. Much of the United States was developed only after rail lines were constructed, providing connections between regional nodes of commerce and outposts in the then untamed wilderness. Since the creation of the North American rail network, railroads have been responsible for helping to locate many of the country’s biggest and longest lived manufacturing companies in the communities they now call home. 

More nimble and specialized than the seven Class I railroads that serve North America, companies like OmniTRAX take a hyper-localized approach to growth within the towns and counties served because the operations are an integral part of the community. We don’t just pass through. Our team members live locally and have a vested interest in the improvement of that community.

— “We work with economic development organizations in the communities we serve daily, to attract new business.”

At OmniTRAX, the fact that we are a rail transportation company born out of a real estate development entity enables us to operate at the critical intersection of the railroad and the rail-served real estate of the community. This, in turn, gives us the focus needed to deliver innovative solutions to attracting the right companies to the right communities so all parties benefit.

Located in 18 major markets across North America, we exist to develop strong relationships with both community leaders and economic developers with the goal of understanding local needs and creating environments that are favorable to our current and potential customers. Working with our government partners, OmniTRAX deploys programs like the Rail-Ready Sites initiative to identify, assess and market rail-served properties along our rail lines to bring quality jobs and investment to these areas. So far, the Rail-Ready Sites program has brought more than 50 sites on 10 railroads to market with many others to come.

A great example of how OmniTRAX uses this novel approach and collaboration to help American communities grow through customer partnerships is A&R Logistics, a global leader in supply chain services for the chemical industry. In 2019, A&R Logistics announced its selection of the Savannah Gateway Industrial Hub (SGIH) in Effingham County, Ga., for its new global export facility. With its close proximity to the Port of Savannah and Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development (GRAD) certification, the 2,600-acre SGIH site is a true partnership between landowner Effingham County Industrial Development Authority and OmniTRAX as rail provider and its real estate development sister company Broe Real Estate Group as master developer. To land this project, OmniTRAX committed to building the first new dual rail-served industrial park in Georgia in the modern era—the seven mile, dual-Class I served Savannah Industrial Transportation switching operation. OmniTRAX also worked with Broe Real Estate Group to build a 1-million square-foot facility that includes the new  A&R export operations. All of these partnerships were born out of a desire to bring higher paying jobs to the region that are stickier and long lasting. This facility allows U.S. manufacturers the ability to reach to new markets by partnering with one of America’s fastest-growing ports.

We work with the economic development organizations in the communities we serve daily, as well as their member companies and landowners, to attract new business. At the most recent addition to the OmniTRAX portfolio, the Winchester & Western Railroad operating in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, we are actively promoting the I-81 corridor and the greater Northeast as a place to manufacture based on its access to over 100 million people in a day’s drive. Shortly after the acquisition, we participated with the Berkeley County Development Authority and the state of West Virginia in attracting The Clorox Company to a site along our railroad. Clorox is investing $190 million in a facility to produce Scoop Away and Fresh Stop cat litter, which will create 100 direct jobs and many more indirect ones, again helping to grow an American community.

Everyone at OmniTRAX takes the effort to grow American communities seriously, from our team in Denver to our colleagues in the field.

OmniTRAX also works to nurture regions by proactively bringing economic development projects to our existing industrial parks. In 2007, OmniTRAX led an effort along with our partners at Upstate Colorado Economic Development and the state of Colorado to locate Vestas, a Danish manufacturer, seller, installer and servicer of wind turbines, to the 3,000-acre, Broe-owned Great Western Industrial Park in Windsor, Colo. The 200,000-square-foot project, which created more than 650 high-wage jobs, was a catalyst for more than $700M in capital investment by the company in the state. 

Everyone at OmniTRAX takes the effort to grow American communities seriously, from our team in Denver to our colleagues in the field. We all understand the livelihoods of thousands of families are impacted by our efforts. This was one of the main reasons I recently chose to join the company after a career at one of the Class I’s—to help an organization committed to bringing economic prosperity to areas of the country that need it. 

Read more of Railway Age’s special CEO Perspectives series:

Ian Jefferies, Association of American Railroads: Sustainable Economic and Legislative Policies
• Katie Farmer, BNSF: Leveraging Advanced Technologies
• Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific: Growing the Top Line
• JJ Ruest, CN: Improving Customer Supply Chain Visibility
• Jim Foote, CSX: Railroads as a Sustainable Business
• Pat Ottensmeyer, Kansas City Southern: Maximizing USMCA for Cross-Border Growth
• Jim Squires, Norfolk Southern: Building the Digital Railroad of the Future
• Lance Fritz, Union Pacific: Smart Capital Investment Strategies
• Peter Gilbertson, Anacostia Rail Holdings: Providing Outstanding Customer Service
• Dan Smith, Watco: Integrated Transportation Services Fuel Growth

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