Weber County pushing for Utah Inland Port Authority project out west
Weber County leaders are vying for a Utah Inland Port Authority project on a 903-acre expanse in the western part of the county, a largely undeveloped zone where officials have long envisioned industrial development.
“We think we have a great site out there,” Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer said in August when county commissioners formally asked port authority officials to consider the idea. “This will be an opportunity for business, an opportunity for growth, an opportunity for jobs that will benefit Weber County well into the future.”
Port authority officials — broadly tasked with promoting economic development and improving “logistics-based infrastructure” — have yet to formally act, but both sides are enthusiastic about the prospects. Details of the project area, to be completed by port authority and Weber County officials, will be the focus of two yet-to-be-scheduled public meetings, according to Ben Hart. He’s executive director of the Utah Inland Port Authority, or UIPA.
“We’d love to see advanced manufacturing. We’d love to see clean energy,” Hart said in a phone interview with the Standard-Examiner. “We would love to see a strong connection with forward-facing industries that are very durable, and again, ensure that we’re attracting the best companies to be in that area.”
The area — also home to Compass Minerals and Western Zirconium — is zoned for industrial park development, “that’s the long-term plan and vision,” Hart said. High-paying jobs and economic development, he said, are among the key goals of the proposed UIPA project area.
The project area is spread across three parcels measuring 903 acres in all that are owned by a Mesa, Arizona-based entity called Litchfield Capital. A Southern Pacific Railroad line runs on the northern edge of the property, which roughly sits between 7500 West and 9900 West, about a half-mile south of 900 South, part of the 12th Street corridor through western Weber County.
East of that along the 12th Street corridor at around 5900 west, a 355-acre business park is in the works, the Promontory Commerce Center. Beyond that, county officials envision creation of a vast development area, the West Weber Industrial District and Renewable Energy Hub, that would encompass the Promontory Commerce Center and much more of western Weber County’s undeveloped acreage.
‘A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP’
UIPA officials have already identified four project areas across Utah, the first of them the Northwest Quadrant initiative in northwestern Salt Lake County. The others are the Iron Springs Project Area in Iron County, Verk Industrial Park in Spanish Fork and the Golden Spike Park Project Area in Box Elder County, which received the green light from UIPA officials on Aug. 21.
The inland port initiative has been the focus of controversy and criticism from some who question the demand for the sorts of initiatives envisioned, among other things. The Golden Spike proposal drew fire from some due to concerns it would disrupt the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, according to KSL.com.
Weber County leaders and UIPA reps like Hart, though, are bullish on the prospects here in Weber County.
“We look forward to this collaboration. It’s a long-term relationship,” Scott Wolford, UIPA vice president of project area development, told Weber County commissioners on Aug. 8, when they formally asked inland port reps to consider a project here. “Weber County is a very strategic area for economic development but also for potential logistical solutions.”
Hart said the benefit of putting the Weber County development plans under the umbrella of the port authority is potential access to state funds to help develop rail infrastructure. That’s a key element of inland port plans because of the effect it can have in reducing truck traffic on roads. “We feel like rail is an incredibly important component to these project areas because we just can’t keep putting everything on trucks,” he said.
Hart also put an emphasis on development of advanced manufacturing in inland port project areas — biotech and life sciences initiatives, say — versus warehousing and distribution facilities.
“If you’re just doing distribution warehouses, then what you’re going to get are lower-wage jobs, not a lot of opportunities for career mobility,” he said. “I really want to be able to help provide an industrial park that is an economic multiplier for generations to come.”
Should the Weber County plans move forward, private investment would be a key element. “We are definitely trying to attract capital investors, yep,” Hart said.