Rail center gains steam

LORDSTOWN – A consultant huddling last week with state and local economic representatives around a massive glass conference table inside a shipping depot here was having a hard time holding back his excitement.

“I will talk to JobsOhio and tell them there is nothing to stop them from marketing this site today,” said Jonathan Gemmen, senior location consultant with Cleveland’s Austin Consulting.

Gemmen’s company has been working with the Ohio Department of Development on a $2 million Ohio Jobs Ready Site grant and subsequent marketing of the Ohio Commerce Center in Lordstown.

What not that long ago was a worn and weathered World War II train yard is quickly becoming a modern rail transloading and warehousing transportation center at the heart of the Utica Shale Play.

While talk focused largely on potential for Utica shale-related transportation and jobs, economic development experts know the center can be so much more.

“If this only turns into a transloading facility for the shale industry, this is totally worth it from the state’s point of view,” Gemmen said.

Thursday, the consultants along with officials from the state’s Development Services Agency, the Regional Chamber and representatives of the Ohio Commerce Center spent part of the afternoon touring the center aboard a revamped locomotive.

The train ride provided a glimpse into seldom-seen sections of the approximately 500-acre center, including new rail being laid, newly paved passageways and parking lots and other infrastructure that the facility’s owners and developers are hoping to use to draw new business to the Mahoning Valley.

The tour traveled partially around the soon-to-be completed 12,000-foot loop track that eventually will be able to handle the longest trains in operation today. And when the need is warranted – as early as next year – the Commerce Center plans to construct silos for hydraulic fracturing sand storage and an “oil-loading” barn where oil pumped from the Utica can be shipped out by rail.

Dan Crouse, one of the two Routh-Hurlbert brokers marketing the center, said plans are already in the works for an oil and gas company to transload outbound oil to refineries.

Crouse, and fellow broker Charles Joseph, pointed out details of the facility’s upgrades during the tour.

“We are recreating track that was there 50 years ago,” Crouse said. “It’s really sad that they tore it out.”

Dan Price, vice president of operations for Savage, a company brought on by the Ohio Commerce Center because of its expertise in oil and gas industry transportation, is working on the inbound transport of specialized sand needed in the hydraulic fracturing process.

“The oil and gas market has changed things,” said Price, who previously spent time working in the rail industry in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Play. “This location is very strategic for our company and for the state of Ohio. There’s no other transload in this area.”

“A gem” is how Sarah Boyarko, Regional Chamber vice president of economic development, described the property, largely due to the site’s excellent highway access, available flat land and rail access. And as Utica Shale drilling picks up locally, rail transportation will become increasingly more important.

That coupled with aggressive brokers and owners, brothers George and Spiro Bakeris, are planting seeds for success.

“George and Spiro, they have really put their money where their mouth is,” Boyarko said. “The brokers marketing the property should be able to firm up some of the opportunities that we are entertaining right now.”

George Bakeris expressed his satisfaction with the progress so far, much of it made possible by the state grant received last year.

“This program has worked out really good for us. Where we concentrated on spending the money, we knew rail was the big thing. What it has done was enable us to bring other companies in here,” Bakeris said.