The 3.8 million square feet of warehousing that Goodman Birtcher North America is proposing in Cumberland and York counties would be its first such spaces in the midstate.
The company is employing a strategy combining Central Pennsylvania's role as a transportation hub, the growing demand for e-commerce retail and its long-term management style to build not just more warehouses, but relationships with communities, executives said.
Oh, and that 3.8 million square feet? It's speculative warehouse space. However, Goodman Birtcher's executives said the plans will be good for Central Pennsylvania.
"It's a calculated risk, but we think it's a good decision," said Brandon Birtcher, the company's president and CEO of North America.
There's strong demand for warehousing driven by rapid growth in online retail sales, he said. More companies are establishing fulfillment centers similar to those Amazon.com operates in the midstate. They need them to meet customer demand for overnight shipping, he said.
"The e-commerce movement is very strong and growing at about 12 percent in the U.S. this year," Birtcher said. "As fuel rises (in price) and the federal government changes laws about how long (drivers) can be behind the cab of a truck ... it's important to put these facilities closer to consumers."
The lack of space of more than 700,000 square feet makes the proposed warehouses a better strategic move for the company, Birtcher said.
A lot of warehousing was built before the start of the recession, particularly in Cumberland County. Much of that space sat vacant through the recession, but it slowly filled up in the recovery. More companies are buying existing warehouses, and new warehouses are beginning to rise along interstates 78, 81 and 83.
"So having speculative inventory is very important," Birtcher said.
However, California-based Goodman Birtcher will have to jump through some hoops to get the five warehouses it's planning.
A public hearing is underway in Fairview Township, York County, on the company's request to allow warehouses in the commercial business zone, and citizens are mounting a collective opposition.
"This is a hugely congested area already," Joyce Kieffer, who lives within a mile of the proposed site on Lewisberry Road, said to the Business Journal while she protested the warehouse at Monday night's public hearing at Red Land High School. She referred to the company's estimates of about 500 trucks per day coming and going from the site.
Residents say the trucks will dramatically raise the levels of particulate air pollution in the area and grind traffic to a halt.
Unlike its Carlisle project, the Fairview Township warehouse proposal is surrounded nearly on all sides by housing, which residents say illustrates why dropping an industrial facility there is unacceptable.
Goodman Birtcher needs a conditional use variance to build the 1-million-square-foot warehouse in the commercial business zone. Company executives said they can demonstrate how this use will be better than others.
"A retail site would create six to seven times more traffic than our facility," said Troy Briggs, regional director for the Northeast.
The company is placing warehouses next to interstate exits to reduce truck traffic, he said.
"These trucks are not going to go down secondary roads," Briggs said. "That's the last thing they want to do."
In addition, Goodman Birtcher has 85 acres for the warehouse, but will use 3 acres as a wooded buffer zone, he said. And the company is a long-term owner of its properties. It will control and maintain the properties, not sell them off, he said.
The 175 acres Goodman Birtcher wants to develop in Cumberland County is shared by Dickinson, South Middleton and West Pennsboro townships and the Borough of Carlisle. Although zoning changes are required, the property at Allen Road and Ritner Highway is close to multiple warehouses.
They have become Allen Road's defining characteristic. The $45 million reconstruction of the road and I-81's Exit 44 improved it for truck traffic, Briggs said.
Goodman Birtcher wants to build two 1-million-square-foot warehouses and two 400,000-square-foot warehouses on the site.
In 2008, Las Vegas-based Equiterra Properties had proposed building a mixed-use commercial park on 60 acres there. Today it's part of Goodman Birtcher's plans.
"I guess they couldn't make a go of it," Bruce Koziar, Carlisle's zoning and codes manager, said about the Equiterra plans.
The borough will hold a public hearing Oct. 10 on the warehouses, which aren't allowed in the industrial commercial zone, he said. West Pennsboro and Dickinson townships are considering similar zoning changes.
South Middleton Township hasn't seen plans for the warehouses and has no hearings scheduled, said Brian O'Neill, the township's community development director. Township zoning for the Allen Road property allows warehouses.
"They probably won't submit plans to us until they clear the rezoning requests in the other municipalities," O'Neill said.
Between the estimated 1,200 to 1,800 jobs the warehouses could generate and about $600,000 in tax revenue for just one of the large warehouses, there are many benefits to the communities, Birtcher said.
There could be more warehouses if the company identifies other Central Pennsylvania properties that could support similar logistics centers. Its executives certainly have this region on their minds.
"One of the things we're committed to is the Central Pennsylvania and north New Jersey markets," Birtcher said.