Woods Talks Travero's Logistics Park Cedar Rapids

Oct 29, 2020

Travero is developing Logistics Park Cedar Rapids (LPCR) in southwest Cedar Rapids, just north of the Eastern Iowa Airport. LPCR will offer services that allow shippers to capture the benefits of rails’ economies of scale over long distances with the convenience of “last-mile” truck delivery.

We asked Jeff Woods, Director of Business Development with Travero, to talk with us about Logistics Park Cedar Rapids and share about the inception of the park, the opportunities for economic development and trends in transportation.

Tell us about you!

As Director of Business Development for Travero, our team creates partnerships and relationships with firms that we think can benefit from the services we offer, as well as explore those services we should offer. A big part of that is the creation of growth strategies and tactics to keep us on track to meet goals and objectives. It’s hard (for me) to believe, but I recently started year 31 with the company.

Travero recently changed its name. What was the motivation?

As Alliant Energy Transportation we put together a great collection of companies and people in different spaces. Each had it’s own name and logo, all for good reasons. There was just no consistency. Taking the message to market was awkward at best, and we spent a lot of the elevator speech unpacking all of the relationships and names. Changing the name and creating uniformity under Travero let’s us get the message across quickly and crisply. It was also an opportunity to modernize styles, colors, schemes and more.

What was the motivation for development of Logistics Park Cedar Rapids?

We were thinking about growth strategies that aligned with what we saw and heard in the logistics space regionally. In particular, the co-location of logistics parks and economic development parks – like Alliant Energy’s Big Cedar Industrial Center – was luring shippers and economic development prospects to communities in places like Chicago and Kansas City. At the same time, the Iowa DOT, in concert with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, was wrapping up a study that looked at the State’s freight shipments as one big supply chain. The objective was to identify improvements and services to optimize that supply chain in ways that reduced cost for shippers, and roadway repair, congestion and safety costs for the State. When we all talked about it for the first time we realized we were headed to the same conclusions. We took the concept to shippers who provided great insights, and what we are now building meets what the market has said they want – with one exception. I’ll share more about that later.

What types of products will be ideally suited for LPCR? What makes it compelling to store or distribute from this location?

There are no boundaries, really, in terms of what LPCR might be best suited for given the assets that will be in place. If it moves into and out of the region it is on our radar. One compelling amenity for shippers will be the rail-served food-grade warehouse. For others it will be the simple connectivity between road and rail on a secure, staffed site. As we have room for growth and plenty of land next door to expand is exciting as we work with firms in terms of future needs.

What are major logistics and distribution challenges facing companies, both before and during coronavirus?

That’s a complex answer, and to some extent depends on the size of the firm you talk to and when. However, there are common themes. Broadly, many firms we’ve talked to say they spend way too much time or have too many resources allocated toward getting stuff moved and stored. They’d rather allocate scarce resources to their core business and let someone else handle “supply chain” because it is an expense whether they do it themselves or just pay a vendor a little to do it for them. Expertise comes up quite a bit in small or midsize companies – logistics matters get put on the deck of say a very capable procurement person who may not know much about freight. So they let the vendor handle that and get “double dipped” as the one firm put it, meaning the freight also gets marked-up. Related to expertise is optionality. How can we do things differently and gain a competitive advantage or greater profits?

How will the addition of LPCR help companies in the region and state be more competitive?

LPCR is a facility – open to anyone – looking for the optionality I just mentioned. It connects road and rail, with storage as an option to buffer capacity. For example, perhaps I am a firm that makes things and ships them halfway across the country. Since I don’t have a rail siding, I truck it. LPCR will let them see if a play exists to let truck handle the short distance, then use the economies of scale of rail over the long haul to potentially create savings. Or, maybe I am a firm with access to truck and rail today, but have seasonal surges and need off-site space. LPCR maintains the optionality they have at their plant. As part of Travero, we can run down all of the individual pieces for you too – you can focus on what you want to do which is make and sell goods.

How do you think LPCR will help our region retain and expand existing companies as well as recruit new businesses?

One key finding of the State’s study was that Iowa shippers as a whole pay over two times the national average for transportation in terms of the cost of a good produced. A big reason for that is many firms lack direct access to rail service at their facilities and nearby options for road-rail connectivity points. LPCR creates that connectivity. LPCR will let current shippers look at flexible transportation and logistics options to stay competitive or at least be more efficient. In addition, LPCR is an attractive amenity for economic development prospects considering Iowa. It will let us be more competitive in how we market to those prospects and differentiate from other communities.

What are future infrastructure needs for logistics and distribution will be needed for our region to remain competitive?

Earlier I mentioned “one exception” and that is an intermodal ramp. Virtually every shipper we talked to longs for an intermodal facility in Cedar Rapids that will let them put containers on and off the national rail network locally versus trucking those same containers to congested terminals in Chicago. It is a simple concept: have a truck spend an entire day – hopefully one day - driving 500 miles round trip to get one container to a facility in Joliet or Chicago, or have that same truck put on say 150 miles in a day delivering 8-10 containers to a hub in Cedar Rapids. Considering the literally hundreds of thousands of containers moving in and out of the region annually, the roadway savings for the state would be incredible. Reliability and cost for shippers would be much better. The reduction in carbon footprint? Unbelievable! Many have tried to get an intermodal hub here, including us, but so far it hasn’t come to fruition for a variety of reasons. We are not giving up. That’s probably the one thing we will monitor most going forward given the positive impacts such a facility would have to help keep our industry competitive, attract economic development prospects and help the state with road related costs.

Business Attraction is part of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance’s core function of economic development. Business attraction efforts include working with companies to understand the area, ultimately to be well connected to the region and its people. Through site location analysis, building evaluation, workforce investigation, understanding centers of R&D and education, and financial tool assistance, companies are aided to ensure their success in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids region. To learn more about regional business attraction in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids region, visit ICRIowa.org.

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