Inland Port Authority Approved!
Hershey Rail Park will be one of state's first 2 ‘inland port districts’
Lincoln County has won one of Nebraska’s first two “inland port district” designations for the industrial “rail park” developing east of Hershey.
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development Wednesday announced that the county has received one of the state’s first two such designations, along with a joint Fremont-Dodge County district near Omaha.
State leaders can designate up to five inland port districts under 2021’s Legislative Bill 156, introduced by state Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha to take advantage of Nebraska’s central location on the nation’s transportation networks.
The designation will let raw materials and finished products from or bound for foreign markets go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection checks at the rail park rather than crowded coastal ports, local officials say.
LB 156’s passage coincided with a three-year local push to broaden Lincoln County’s industrial base by capitalizing on the proximity of the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard, the world’s largest rail-classification yard.
The Legislature passed LB 40 the same year as the inland port district law, enabling local leaders last year to win $30 million in state matching funds to help build the rail park.
Gary Person, president and CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp., said DED officials informed him Tuesday that Lincoln County’s inland-port application had been approved.
Winning the designation “moves our rail park project up to a whole new status in being able to attract industry, primarily agribusiness, manufacturing and processing,” Person said.
He praised U.P. leaders for supporting and assisting both the rail park and inland port district, along with the support and work of chamber members, Hershey and North Platte elected officials and county commissioners.
“We were confident with the application and our rail-park site meeting all the qualifications that were set forth in the (state) guidelines,” Person said.
“It was a real cooperative effort to get this done. If the U.P. hadn’t opened the door (to the rail park), this wouldn’t have happened.”
Organization of the rail-park project was sparked by U.P.’s change of heart after decades of reluctance to risk granting rail access that could interfere with Bailey Yard. Railroad officials helped identify the rail-park site on Hershey’s current east edge.
Commissioner Chris Bruns, the County Board’s point person on the rail park and inland port district, welcomed Wednesday’s news as he returned from meetings in Washington, D.C., toward having the Hershey rail park also declared a “foreign trade zone.”
“Obtaining this formal designation caps a nearly two-years-long endeavor that will help Lincoln County facilitate long-term, regional economic growth for years to come,” Bruns said via email.
He said commissioners now will move to “identify, interview and appoint” the nine members of the “inland port authority” board they authorized in June to operate the rail park and recruit additional tenants.
The County Board in July applied $250,000 from the county’s federal COVID-19 aid to help the chamber buy the former Greenbrier Rail Services factory and its U.P. rail spur as the nucleus of the 339-acre park between U.S. Highway 30 and the railroad. Local leaders hope to lure a soybean oil “crush” processing plant as the rail park’s anchor industry. Those efforts should benefit greatly from Wednesday’s inland port district designation, Person said.
In announcing the Lincoln County and Fremont districts, DED Director Anthony Goins said the 2021 law aims to encourage “the development of new industrial hubs and providing the economic development tools necessary to acquire and develop large commercial and industrial shovel-ready sites.”
Bruns said many businesses and manufacturers consider inland ports “an important tool for streamlining their international trade processes, particularly those that rely on just-in-time logistics.”
Lincoln County’s rail park will be “highly desirable” as a result, he said, because of its “centralized geographic location” and access to Interstate 80, U.S. 30, the North Platte Regional Airport and especially Bailey Yard.
“Our new inland port will provide us with a unique, strategic advantage in many regards and finally allow us to harness our strong but disparate infrastructure and provide a centralized opportunity for tremendous multimodal capabilities,” Bruns said.
Besides adding jobs and relieving “our burdensome tax climate,” he added, it “will serve as a true catalyst, positioning Lincoln County and the larger region as an economic powerhouse in the state of Nebraska.”
Person said he has emphasized local leaders’ push for inland-port and foreign trade zone status with potential tenants. Winning the state designation “validates everything we had been telling them.”
With the Omaha metro area receiving Nebraska’s only other initial inland port, he added, “it’s pretty good company to be in when they realize what we have going on here complements the firepower they have,” he added.
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