When FedEx Ground broke ground on its major East Coast automated hub in the Greater Lehigh Valley last year, the project not only attracted attention from economic development officials outside the region, but from those outside the nation as well.
That’s what occurred when Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., one of several stakeholders in the project, attended an economic development forum in Toronto, Canada, to discuss the project.
The event demonstrated how the Greater Lehigh Valley has become an example for other areas to model their efforts.
Don Cunningham, president and CEO of LVEDC, said he attended I.CON ’17, an event hosted last month by NAIOP, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association. The FedEx Ground project was one of four that were discussed as a model for how to get these types of big industrial projects accomplished.
Joseph Fitzpatrick, founder and shareholder of Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba in Upper Saucon Township, joined Cunningham on the trip along with Clark Machemer, senior vice president and regional development officer for The Rockefeller Group’s New Jersey and Pennsylvania Group. Rockefeller bought the land in Allen Township for the FedEx facility from the Lehigh Valley International Airport.
Fitzpatrick and Machemer also were key partners in getting the project developed.
Since it was introduced several years ago, the FedEx project has faced fierce opposition, with many local residents and officials, including those in neighboring Hanover Township, Lehigh County, voicing concerns over the traffic impact.
“Clearly it wasn’t without its opposition from some folks,” Cunningham said. “The road improvements should improve the situation.”
700 TO 3,000 EMPLOYEES
FedEx Ground is spending $330 million on the massive operation, an investment that includes road improvements and package-processing equipment.
The 800,000-square-foot FedEx Ground project under construction off Willowbrook Road is expected to employ 700 upon opening in late August 2018.
At full build-out, the facility could employ more than 3,000 and expand to 1.1 million square feet. About 100 of those 700 employees would be transferred from existing facilities.
Cunningham said the support of state government, including senators such as Lisa Boscola and the state Department of Transportation to get funds for off-site road improvements, helped the project attain approval from local government.
That’s the crux of how the project came together, with private sector officials partnering with economic development professionals on the local and state level and bringing in state legislators vested in the project’s success because of its economic impact.
“It will be FedEx’s largest facility in the U.S.,” Cunningham said. “The underpinnings of it are that the Lehigh Valley has emerged as this large industrial inland empire.”
The past few years, the region has ended up with a significant amount of e-commerce related development and related manufacturing.
Now that FedEx Ground will be up and running next year, LVEDC already has had significant talks with retailers interested in the region, Cunningham said.
“FedEx Ground is a huge player in that process,” Cunningham said. “It will be a huge player in direct-to-consumer retail.”
At one point last year, FedEx Ground said it was considering a site in South Bethlehem off Route 412 for its mega hub and potentially scrapping its plans for locating near the airport.
It chose Allen Township, with FedEx Ground spokesman David Westrick saying that location and population played key roles in determining the site.
“It’s an area with enough property for what we want to build,” he said. “The plans haven’t changed at all.”