This year, the J.M. Smucker Co. considered El Paso County as a potential site for a warehouse, but in May it was announced that the company had instead purchased land in Longmont for its $340 million plant.
Smucker’s passed over the Pikes Peak region because it lacked industrial railway access to provide national transportation for its products.
During the past decade, 35 projects have said no to El Paso County because of the lack of rail options available to businesses, according to Tammy Fields, senior vice president for economic development at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.
And though discussions about building rail spurs and an industrial park have continued for more than a decade, it’s finally becoming a hot topic.
El Paso County’s most recent discussions with the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific railway started around nine months ago, said Fields, who added that BNSF, one of the largest railroad networks in North America, receives calls from its customers every week expressing a need for rail-served properties in the Pikes Peak region.
However, building an industrial park in the area is still just in the conversation stage, with no plans to start, she said.
“Even if we had everything full-steam ahead, we’re probably a full 24 months out from having anything in the ground, so to speak,” she said.
Fountain’s the best bet
Fields said that Fountain would be the best location for an industrial park, and Kimberly Bailey, economic development manager for the city of Fountain, agrees.
“We don’t have that concentrated industrial park that you would see in a larger concentration of a rail-served center,” Bailey said. “It’s been a conceptual idea for 15 years in our region. Some of the stars are aligning to make it potentially viable. [Fountain] is the only site that’s been identified [to support an El Paso County industrial park].”
Bailey said she hopes to release more information in the fall.
She did say El Paso County, the city of Fountain, Fort Carson and some railroad entities have had discussions and the concept has gained additional traction as the area’s population grows and businesses continue to expand. Oversaturation of businesses in Denver adds to the momentum for a Fountain industrial park as well, she said.
“The great Pikes Peak-Colorado Springs market is within arm’s reach to [alleviate] Denver’s saturation,” Bailey said.
But there are still issues that need to be ironed out, she said. The city would need to conduct a feasibility study, to determine the site for the industrial space, the design of the park and how it will be used. Economic development officials would also need to find funding for the land and infrastructure.
El Paso County has two main north-south rail lines on the east side of Interstate 25, but they mainly transport coal to power plants operated by Colorado Springs Utilities, she said.
An industrial rail park would attract more primary employers to the region, according to Bailey.
Vestas, a wind turbine company, manufactures its blades, towers and motors in Windsor, Pueblo and Brighton.
“A lot of people [in El Paso County] said, ‘Why didn’t we get that project?’ Well, we don’t have any kind of rail-served area that could transport their product,” said Fields. “[Vestas] needs that. They have to have that. So we’ve been working on trying to identify [somewhere] within our county that could [accommodate those services].”
El Paso County has only a few small railway spurs for loading and unloading products, but nothing large enough to draw in manufacturers.
“There are companies that may want to have, say, 15 … acres and they need it to be rail-served because their product is either heavy or it’s something that needs to be transported by rail for cost reasons,” Fields said.
Pueblo’s Rail lines
According to Jeffrey Shaw, president and CEO of prospects and operations at the Pueblo Economic Development Corp., Pueblo has four industrial parks and more than 100 miles of rail serving these parks, with rail lines heading in all four directions.
Shaw said it is impossible for him to predict how much an industrial park would cost, but based on his experience in Pueblo, he estimates the cost of a switch at $1 million with an additional $1-2 million for every mile of rail.
“Pueblo’s history is based on the rail industry,” Shaw said. “The steel mill is here from 100 years ago because of the railroads. We consider rail being one of our main four clusters that we incentivize companies with. It’s defined Pueblo for who it is today, but it also brings in a tremendous amount of economic development for the community.”
Shaw added that the rail industry contributes to Pueblo’s manufacturing workforce, whether it’s manufacturing the rail itself or products transported by rail.
“It’s a very significant factor in our local economy — to the point that we invest in our rail infrastructure on a regular basis,” Shaw said.
“This is one of the reasons why the city has municipal rail spurs to help handle companies that are rail-related: to attract companies that have rail needs.”