As the global landscape of manufacturing shifts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Iron Horse Industrial Park sits at the cutting edge of the new world economy. Iron Horse is a 700-acre rail-anchored Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) industrial park on Native American trust land located at the crossroads of United States freight and rail transport.
The park has received three grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) within the U.S. Department of Commerce. With the most recent EDA grant in 2020, Iron Horse has brought a total of $4.7 million to CPN tribal headquarters near Shawnee, Oklahoma, for further development of Iron Horse’s critical infrastructure.
As 2022 ends, Iron Horse staff are pleased to report an active FTZ warehouse; active international shipment; a manufacturing tenant preparing to begin hiring and production in the new year; and major developments in their transport infrastructure, including a fully operational transload station for shipping container transfer and the park’s own locomotive.
“There are two purposes of the industrial park. One is to create revenue to put into the general fund of the Tribe. The second is to create jobs for Tribal members and others. And now, both are beginning to happen,” said CPN Director of Planning and Economic Development Dr. James Collard.
Conveniently located in America’s heartland, Iron Horse Industrial Park offers direct access to Class I railroad operated by Union Pacific and Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad. It is also within easy reach of U.S. Highway 177, OK State Highway 9, Interstate 40, Interstate 35 and Interstate 44. Iron Horse utilizes Houston, Texas, as well as Long Beach and Los Angeles, California, as its main ports.
The central location offers benefits to companies by minimizing transport costs and providing efficient access and transload between transport modes. Its Foreign Trade Zone designation provides additional advantages for international companies, including duty deferral and tax benefits.
“The cheapest way to ship heavy freight is on water — the oceans and rivers,” explained Dr. Collard. “The second cheapest way is rail, and then truck, and then air.”
The park’s transload station enables companies to make the most of the numerous transport options available to them to meet their business needs. A 160,000-pound reach stacker facilitates the transfer of shipping containers between truck and rail; it can load and unload up to 99,000 pounds.
“Many of today’s commercial ships are massive and adapted for container shipment that delivers goods internationally. Therefore, transloading is crucial and necessary to make the logistic cycle continue,” Iron Horse’s Administrative Research Analyst Vedrana Milakovic, BBA, MBA, CCS, CES, wrote in a recent press release about the transload facility.
To further develop the park’s transport and transload capacity, Iron Horse will soon add its own locomotive for on-site and local transportation.
“It’s a refurbished, beautiful locomotive,” Milakovic said. “Locomotives are very expensive. We got in at the right time, and we have enjoyed the process of seeing the development from nothing to actually being painted and all the electrical that needs to be put in.”
Work on the locomotive is currently nearing completion in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and Iron Horse staff hope to have the engine on-site before the new year.
“It’s a market need,” Milakovic said. “Now we can maneuver heavy transportation for companies.”
The coronavirus pandemic transformed the world economy, and companies are overwhelmingly re-shoring their manufacturing and adjusting their transport strategies to meet the changing world.
Iron Horse staff find the park’s benefits even more relevant in the emerging industrial landscape.
“Due to economical impacts during COVID, just-in-time inventory doesn’t exist anymore,” Milakovic said. “So, everybody’s trying to get their shipments in bigger batches, which also requires more warehousing. There’s no warehousing left. So, big companies are looking to relocate to (places like) Oklahoma, for example, where they can reach I-35 easily.”
Re-shoring also drives the demand for manufacturing sites. With shipping costs up nearly 10 times pre-pandemic averages, companies are looking to bring their overseas manufacturing and production operations back to the United States.
“We’ve learned some terrific lessons as a result (of the pandemic) for understanding the importance of keeping our suppliers close to us,” Dr. Collard said.
He noted that on the morning of his interview with the Hownikan, a company contacted him about that very topic.
“We are at the forefront, presenting a business-friendly location to U.S. companies that want to re-shore their manufacturing,” Dr. Collard said. “Iron Horse provides safe, stable protection from COVID disruptions.”
The park has one active FTZ warehouse, which opened in May 2022. Iron Horse has received shipments of goods from South Korea, China, Israel and Canada. Milakovic said they aim to add more warehouses in the next phase of its development to meet companies’ needs.
For companies who wish to build, Iron Horse Industrial Park is outfitted with extensive water, sewer, electric and telecommunications infrastructure and open for immediate development.
Dr. Collard and his staff in the Department of Planning and Economic Development secure the future and financial well-being of the Nation through projects like Iron Horse.
While only one element of the Tribe’s economic and industrial development, the park is currently the largest project the team oversees in terms of cost and land, spanning 700-acres.
“Iron Horse is designed to be a profit center, meaning that there will be excess revenues coming off the park that will support the general services of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation,” Dr. Collard said. “And, of course, it’s a location for creating jobs for Tribal members and others.”
The team is excited to see warehousing already underway at the park. They also look forward to seeing current tenant Sovereign Pipe Technologies begin production in the new year, bringing job opportunities to the community.
“Any Tribal member who wants to talk about opening a business or going to work for one of the companies at Iron Horse can give us a call,” he said.