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IDA enters into partnership to develop Research Forest Tract
Research-Forest Brochure-3

The Effingham County Industrial Development Authority has announced a development agreement with OmniTRAX, Inc. to develop its 2,600-acre industrial property known as the Research Forest Tract.

The site will have direct access to both Norfolk Southern and CSX main lines. The development is a strategic partnership between the IDA and OmniTRAX to build an economic epicenter that will be configured to accommodate industrial parcels ranging from five acres to over 1,000 acres.

“This site has the potential of creating thousands of jobs for our community,” said Effingham IDA Chairman Chap Bennett. “It also will have a tremendous impact on our tax digest. The board of directors, management, and staff have worked diligently to create a strategic relationship which will maximize both job creation and digest impact. We’ve known for a long time that this development will create its own gravitational pull for new industry and commercial projects throughout the area. This announcement takes us one step closer to seeing this as a reality.”

The IDA has long touted its Research Forest Tract because of its dual rail lines and its proximity to power, water and sewer. Transportation infrastructure, such as a public east/west corridor tying Highway 21 to the projected Effingham Parkway is being planned to accommodate traffic generated by the new development. OmniTRAX will be responsible for all infrastructure development to service the property.

“Through our partnership with OmniTRAX, we will be able to expedite development of this park in a comprehensive manner,” said IDA CEO John Henry, “leveraging private capital, marketing, and resources to bring this development to market years before we would be able to do so with our current resources.”

The IDA has sought a development partner for the property for several years. OmniTRAX was approached in early 2015 to determine interest, and the two entities learned they shared a common development goal for the property. Discussions began discussions in mid-2015.

“The Savannah market is growing rapidly, supported by the fourth busiest port in the nation. This is a perfect opportunity for OmniTRAX to supply the capabilities and experience gained at our other industrial development sites to create a world-class business park. We’re delighted to be working with John Henry and his team to bring growth to the region,” said Kevin Shuba, CEO of OmniTRAX.

OmniTRAX has developed a tentative master plan for the development that will allow for several phases of development and will ultimately provide in excess of 1,800 developed acres of industrial property, including a single user mega site. The company has developed other large scale projects, including the Great Western Industrial Park, a 3,000-acre, dual-rail served development near Denver, and GeoTrac Industrial Hub at the Port of Brownsville, Texas, a 1,400-acre rail served development. They have successful industrial development and marketing experience, a rarity for rail operators. They currently service many of the country’s Fortune 500 companies.

The agreement is structured so the IDA receives cost recovery, does not have to spend additional funds for infrastructure provision and receives a profit share after investment costs have been returned.

“Having this agreement will not only allow us to see full cost recovery on our investment, we will also reap the benefit of creating new jobs and expanding the tax digest for our community and region much more quickly than was previously planned,” Henry said. “Once the investment costs are recovered we have the potential to receive a windfall that will allow us to provide even more resources for growing jobs, the tax base and the quality of life here in Effingham County for years to come.”

OmniTRAX is one of America’s largest short line railroad holding companies.

“OmniTRAX’s success in rail operations was a real attraction to us, the size and dual-rail nature of this site is what truly gives it potential to be a stand-alone premium site in the Southeast,” Henry said. “We knew in order to capitalize on the site’s potential we had to find a partner that took the rail into consideration. Rail operators that also develop industrial property are few and far between. Given the success that they have had in Colorado and elsewhere we found a respect for the company. Rail projects tend to have fewer trucks than do projects that focus solely on warehousing and distribution. We wanted to be able to capture those manufacturing and assembly operations that have been looking to the ports and this region for their operations. Those jobs are typically higher paying and the capital investment is usually better.”