Podcast: Why Salt Lake City should become an inland port

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, discusses the importance of turning Salt Lake City into an inland port.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below:

Podcast Transcript:

Nick Thiriot: Good afternoon and welcome. My name is Nick Thiriot, a communications specialist at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. I’m here today with Natalie Gochnour, associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Natalie, great to be with you.

Natalie Gochnour: Nice to be with you Nick.

Nick Thiriot: Our topic today, Salt Lake County as an inland port. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute recently completed a preliminary assessment of the practicality and market context for the development of an inland port in Salt Lake City. So Natalie, let’s start with a little bit of background. What is an inland port? What are its main characteristics? And how did we arrive at this point where we are actively looking at Salt Lake County as an inland port?

Natalie Gochnour: I like to think of an inland port a lot like a seaport. It’s a place where you bring products on container ships, where you unload those products and ship them to our door. In the case of an inland port, you move those functions inland. So the container ships would arrive for example at the port of Long Beach, instead of unloading them there, you put those containers right on a rail line and you would train them into the Salt Lake market and you would have a designated spot, probably in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City where you would unload those container ships and then ship products all around this country. It’s a way of creating high-paying jobs and create a very vibrant transportation warehousing and distribution center right here in Salt Lake City.

Nick Thiriot: Great, so let’s shift to the assessment that was recently completed. How was this research developed? And what are in your view, the main takeaways from what we learned?

Natalie Gochnour: World Trade Center Utah, their job is to help Utah become more global and they knew of our attractive characteristics to be an inland port, and essentially asked the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute to do a market assessment. Go out and pull the data and talk to people and see what you can learn about what are the possibilities. This is not a feasibility study where you go out and you’ve decided a site and how much it’s going to cost and you’ve weighed the benefits and whatnot. This was an assessment to decide whether the state should take the next step to do a feasibility study, and the answer to that question is yes. We looked at the nationwide interest in inland ports. There’s a lot of shipping volume going on right now. We are in the age of Amazon Prime and eBay and e-commerce delivery to your doorstep. Inland ports are becoming increasingly more important to the global supply chain. You need a lot of transportation investment to be attractive to an inland port, and of course in our state, we have invested in our freeways, we’ve got a new airport being rebuilt. And so, we find some really attractive transportation reasons to consider an inland port. We also, Nick, have something called OOCL here in Utah. It’s the Oriental Overseas Container Line. It’s one of the largest shipping companies in the world and their North American headquarters is in South Jordan, Utah. Pretty interesting. They have 200 people employed in Salt Lake City and they do all of the logistics for North America for this major shipping company right here in Salt Lake County. And so I think the proximity and the location of OOCL is another interesting finding of our study.

I’ll just mention a couple others. The Union Pacific Rail Network is just very essentially located here in Salt Lake City. If something comes to the West Coast ports and wants to get to the East Coast, it has to go through Salt Lake City or El Paso, Texas. And you don’t think of that – we just don’t think of it. Here’s another thought for people to think about. You think of all the things that come from China, if they’re going to make it to the eastern part of the United States of America, they either have to go through the Long Beach and Oakland and Seattle ports or they have to go through the Panama Canal. So they are either going across the country or they are going through the Panama Canal, and we don’t think of that and of course Salt Lake City is right on that pathway if they go through the country. And so, there’s a lot of reasons why Salt Lake City may be an attractive location for an inland port, you don’t do it unless the benefits outweigh the costs and I think our state needs to assess that more carefully.

Nick Thiriot: Sounds like we are indeed favorably positioned economically, geographically included in all of that to be a great position for that. So now we have this research, we have the assessment, what are our next steps? What would it take for Salt Lake County to be designated as an inland port and more importantly, how would it work? How would it be governed or managed?

Natalie Gochnour: Interesting. So at the end of our study, we essentially say you know what, it would probably be a good idea to form an exploratory team. That is take the governor’s office, the legislature, the World Trade Center Utah, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Chamber, probably a freight forwarder, I mentioned OOCL or this orient overseas container line, Union Pacific, maybe even Delta – but get some of the key players on an exploratory team to basically look into this further. I would envision this team doing some domestic trade missions. I think they should visit the Port of Long Beach and we identify Greer, South Carolina is another important port to look at. They need to go visit with the Union Pacific and Delta. Another thing would be to be involved in the relocation of the state prison. The new prison site is in the same area that an inland port would likely be, the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City. So I think this exploratory team would want to engage with the planning of the northwest quadrant and then work with the legislature to fund a site assessment, do the due diligence and ultimately, a feasibility study to decide whether this is indeed a proper economic development step for our state to take.

Nick Thiriot: Finally, Natalie, I just want to ask, the research we do, the products we develop are of course meant to serve the people of Utah and to help our leaders make informed decisions. Now according to this research, this assessment, how would an inland port, put simply, benefit the people of Utah?

Natalie Gochnour: Well, you only develop an inland port if you believe that it’s going to be a job center, an activity center, a place that helps feed families in Utah. We do a lot of population projections at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Our state will add 2 1/2 million people over the next 50 years. It’s really important that today’s leaders be looking around the corner at what can we do to provide gainful employment and jobs for all these people that are coming. You know right now, we’re really excited as our tech sector is doing so well and the point in the mountains*is doing so well. That’s because somebody, many years ago, invested in expanding the engineering capacities at our universities and I think of an inland port in much the same way. I don’t know yet if it’s the right economic development move, but I know that there is enough things going on in this community that we ought to look at it and the only reason we do it is if it creates a more prosperous state and if the environmental issues are carefully looked at and if the congestion issues are very carefully looked at. But there’s a pretty good chance in an era of e-commerce and Amazon fulfillment centers and the like that being close and a part of the global supply chain will pay dividends in the future.

Nick Thiriot: Wonderful. Natalie, thank you again for joining us today.

Natalie Gochnour: Pleasure Nick.

Nick Thiriot: Thank you for listening today. My name is Nick Thiriot, communications specialist at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, an initiative of the David Eccles School of Business. Learn more at gardner.utah.edu, and for the latest updates, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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