Railroads pose threat to unaware pedestrians

A Union Pacific train engine goes past the railroad crossing at Engineer Street near Third Street during an Operation Lifesaver railroad crossing enforcement program in 2016.

Christmas came early for the local economic development community, as it was announced Friday the City of Sedalia has received a $10.09 million federal grant to help expand its newest industrial park.

The city has been awarded a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to extend its existing railroad tracks to the new 2,900-acre Sedalia Rail Industrial Park in northeast Pettis County. The park is home to Nucor, the steel rebar micro-mill set to open in 2019, and possibly more industrial companies with the addition of the rail spur. 

Jessica Craig, executive director of Economic Development Sedalia-Pettis County, said Sedalia and Pettis County are already receiving a lot of attention from manufacturers looking to possibly locate to the Midwest’s largest rail-served industrial park and the largest on Union Pacific territory nationwide.

“The Economic Development board in 2016 led a strategic planning effort and developed this site task force that came up with a plan to have our next 20-, 30-year growth areas as a rail-served industrial park,” Craig said. “It opens up for more growth in the future and has a trickle-down effect into other industries. This project wouldn’t be possible but for these grant dollars coming down from the federal government.”

Pettis County Presiding Commissioner David Dick said applying for the grant was a matter of looking beyond the community’s current needs and trying to look ahead. News of the grant this week is “unbelievable,” Dick said.

“It’s huge,” Sedalia City Administrator Kelvin Shaw said. “It opens up so much land, and not only helps us fulfill a promise we made to Nucor to get a rail service to them, it opens up so much other land around that for future development that we are hopeful at least, but more than hopeful, we’re optimistic that other folks will pick up on this and start looking at Sedalia in a different light.”

Shaw noted the new railroad expansion will also help businesses outside the new industrial park. Area manufacturers will be able to receive raw materials and ship finished goods in an easier manner.

“It will allow them to save on transportation costs to ship that freight; it also saves them time,” Craig explained. “A lot of times for existing manufacturers, it’s critical the time it takes to get raw products or ship their products.

“Every industry that ships in Sedalia, and surrounding communities, will be able to come and put things on this rail. You don’t often find that anywhere except in downtown major metro locations. For that to be in central Missouri and rural Missouri, that’s pretty exciting.”

The continued growth could also impact local job opportunities. Rusty Kahrs, president of EDSPC, said Craig contracted a Pettis County labor force study, which shows 7,500 people leave each day for employment outside the county. He said the efforts to increase development will hopefully recapture those people and return them to employment in Pettis County.

The local officials said as local industry grows, so will other aspects of the community. Craig said development drives population increases and growth within school districts, hospital systems, and commercial, housing and retail development. 

“Industrial growth draws people to come here to work and live and build families here,” she said. “That’s why we focus on industrial development because once industry grows you see those dollars have such an impact into the local economy.”

The $10.09 million grant is in addition to private dollars invested from Nucor and public dollars from the numerous partners involved in the task force. A Community Improvement District, or CID, will be formed and will ultimately own the rail spur, Shaw explained. EDSPC will manage it and handle leasing and maintenance.

A freight enhancement grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation awarded the last two fiscal years has allowed the group to complete a “significant amount of design work.”

Craig said construction on the new railroad tracks will hopefully begin in January and the city has already started the bid process. She said at least phase one will be complete by the end of 2019.

Each of the local officials continually described the magnitude of such a project. Kahrs called it “one of the most transformational projects in our community, in the history of Pettis County.” Dick said the grant is a “game-changer.” Shaw said he echoed both of their sentiments: They’re “not exaggerating.”

Kahrs said the federal grant is believed to be the largest grant awarded in the history of the organization and for the Sedalia community. He said the project is thanks to Craig pulling together the 16-partner task force that includes Union Pacific, Empire Gas, KCP&L, the City of Sedalia, Pettis County, EDSPC, and officials at the state and federal levels, among others. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, helped Sedalia receive the BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant.

“This is going to put us on a national radar that is going to bring industrial development for years to come,” Kahrs said. “It’s one of the largest impactors any of us have seen in our lifetime.”

Editor

Nicole Cooke is the editor for the Sedalia Democrat, overseeing all newsroom operations and assisting with news coverage of Sedalia and Pettis County. She can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.

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