March 8, 2016 8:30 AM, EST
CSX Intermodal Terminal Brings Economic Boost to Florida Town
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

The facility is a month shy of its second birthday, but Winter Haven, Florida, city and business leaders say the CSX intermodal terminal and surrounding logistics center already are bringing the economic development they wanted.

They lauded the terminal when it began unloading freight containers in April 2014, touting that it would be an economic development coup for not only Winter Haven but all of Polk County — putting the region at the forefront of logistics.

"The general public may not think they feel an impact, but it's there," said Katie Worthington, CEO of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

The start is slow, but that was expected, Worthington and other leaders said.

Merle Bishop, the city's growth management director, said the impact of the terminal should be looked at in from five to 20 years. It is expected to create a $10 billion economic impact over 10 years, according to an HDR Engineering study.

But Bishop said there have been some immediate effects.

"It's definitely spurring economic development," Bishop said. "While it's not going to happen overnight, the city has seen an increase in activity associated with CSX."

That includes increased traffic, job creation and warehouse construction.

The terminal employs 43 CSX employees and can process up to 300,000 containers a year. It processed 220,000 in 2015, CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said, and is exceeding the number of containers processed this time last year.

CSX has 40 intermodal terminals across its network, and Seay said the Winter Haven terminal is performing as well as any other. CSX's next terminal is planned to open in 2017 in Pittsburgh.

Possibly the greatest impact of the 318-acre facility in Winter Haven is the draw it is expected to create to the surrounding 932 acres dubbed the Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center.

Bruce Lyon, president of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council, works closely with Winter Haven Industrial Investors, a company created by GEM Capital Realty to develop the surrounding logistics center. GEM Capital Realty owns about 500 of the 932 acres, Bishop said, and is under contract to purchase the rest.

There's an additional 1,000 acres of city land for which no development plans have been made. The CSX terminal was designed for expansion, Seay said, but there are no plans to expand right now.

For the past 10 years, the intermodal terminal and logistics center have been thought of as one project, Lyon said, "but now CSX is there and doing what it needs to do, and separately there is this huge industrial opportunity."

The bulk of the anticipated economic development and jobs will come from the center, he said, with the terminal being what draws manufacturers and distributors there. The land is approved for 8 million square feet of industrial space and is expected to create 8,500 jobs.

A 400,000-square-foot warehouse has been built so far, and there are prospective tenants for the site, Lyon said.

"That's a huge step," he said.

Build-out of the rest of the land will be market-driven, he said, because companies won't make million-dollar decisions overnight.

"There are intermodal logistic centers across the country that are 20 years or older and still taking on new development," Lyon said. "This is a project that will create jobs and value for Polk for the next 100 years."

He echoed similar sentiments as Worthington and Bishop.

"But we have absolutely seen the impact of the CSX terminal already," Lyon said. "It has created momentum in the market and an interest in Winter Haven.

"It's the city's most critical asset going forward," he said.