Working Internationally, Investing Locally

Jefferson Riverport International
Written by David O'Neill

Jefferson Riverport, located in southwest Louisville, Kentucky, has been securing and developing land to service a multitude of industries for decades. The land has numerous infrastructural strengths which make it an appealing and logical choice for business investment…
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The decision to sell vacant land was made as a bilateral venture in the late 1970s. Matt Yates, Vice President at Jefferson Riverport International, explains how the decision came about. “Over forty years ago, the city and county collectively came together to discuss the economic selling opportunities of the vacant land in southwest Jefferson County. Investments were made, specifically along the river,” he explains.

Yates adds that, although the land has strong links to existing commercial and travel infrastructure, there is a need to ensure the area remains desirable to new investment, and this means creating a fluid and connected business hub. “Recently, they created a harbor committee where they discussed a port along the river which would tie both rail and highway to the river system. They are making these infrastructure investments, so thirteen miles of railroad tracks, a 300 acre port as well as the greenbelt highway, which bridges connectivity from interstate I-264 to I-265.”

With access to rail, air, sea and road, Riverport benefits greatly from its location. However, Yates is keen to point out that the local area offers more than merely geographical location; the citizens of Louisville are another selling point to prospective investors. “The Riverport authority benefits from its location, its multi-modal amenities such as river, rail, highway and high speed fiber that is now running through the area, and also its close proximity to the highly skilled working population of Louisvillians,” he says. “They have filled nearly 7000 jobs in the Riverport area.”

This sentiment is echoed by Jacob Weir, Industrial Development Manager of Norfolk Southern. He sees the collaboration between Jefferson Riverport and the rail company as a key component in nurturing investment in the area. “We appreciate the longstanding partnership between NS and the Riverport,” he shares. “Our collaboration has supported new job creation and investment in this area. We continue to see strong interest in this region and believe the Riverport is an attractive location for business.”

This is a workforce that is capable and adaptive. Jefferson Riverport has developed land and sold to companies from multiple global industries. This wide reach, according to Yates, ensures that the future is secure, vibrant and an accurate microcosm of the national picture. “The great thing about Riverport is that it is essentially a blend, a good representation of the national manufacturing and logistical industry,” he explains. “We have both foreign and domestic manufacturing, we have automotive, we have pharmaceuticals, we have chemicals, plastics, food processing that have all moved to our various facilities here in Riverport. That’s such a great thing, the balance of it. We have built a sustainable and strong business environment out here because of the collective representation of industry.”

While the role of local authority might seem to be one of facilitating land purchase, those at Jefferson Riverport believe in going to greater lengths to provide smooth transitions from concept to delivery. “Our job is to be a catalyst for economic development and we do that in a number of ways. We acquire land that the free market may not be touching. We take on the heavy lifting and we get that land shovel-ready for industrial use.”

The ways in which Jefferson Riverport readies the land are both administrative and bespoke. The authority prides itself on providing land which is a free run for the investing business and they show no signs of slowing down the rate of expansion. “The development, the acquisition, permitting, the zoning, you name it. It’s ready for someone to come in and invest,” says Yates. “We make way for that to happen. We have done that over forty years and developed over 2500 acres of land, which has created nearly 7000 jobs over 120 companies. Today, we continue to acquire more land along the US 31W corridor which connects Louisville to Fort Knox.”

While Jefferson Riverport is, at its core, a moneymaking venture, that is not its sole purpose by any means. Providing infrastructure, local development, jobs and a sense of community achievement are equally important. “We do own a port and we have a terminal operator. We do get revenue from that; however, with things like ports and railroad systems, they are catalysts for economic development. Commodities could come in from Japan and be taken to a Riverport warehouse and then sent to rural Kentucky for manufacturing so we are the gateway; it comes to Riverport and goes out all over the world.”

Yates says that the revenue from selling this land is used to provide a higher overall standard, from which the local authority can further develop and attract investment. This cycle enables previously overlooked areas to flourish and thrive. “[The money] is invested in the next economic development project. It’s invested in maintaining our railroad tracks, so that these industries can remain vibrant and strong. It is invested into the next acquisition. We are looking at areas that have need for economic development. We have now invested in our newest non-continuous phase. It is fairly close by in the area that we are calling Phase 5. That currently sits at nearly 180 acres of cleared, rail served land, shovel-ready for industrial use.”

Maintaining a relationship with investing businesses is hugely important to those at Jefferson Riverport. To ensure that their investors are continuously benefiting from this relationship involves the authority identifying strategic benefits for their investors. This, according to Yates, helps to provide further growth and development. “We make sure that our companies that exist here are connected to local and state programs to help them access potential incentives such as tax savings, if they are eligible, and helping them access workforce programs; whether that’s free job training for current employees or high-school and university internships, we bring those programs to our companies. Our interest is in seeing this area thrive and survive.”

The benefits of attracting businesses might be obvious and straightforward; jobs and capital investment are both welcome and important. However, there are hidden benefits that trickle down and create a higher quality of living for local residents as well. For example, “We are currently negotiating a contract for some 40 acres which is going to bring 100 jobs. With those jobs is going to come coffee shops, places to eat lunch, many other things that residents in the area will benefit from.”

Yates states that investing in local areas can act as a stimulus, resulting in knock-on investment from other sectors and industries. “Riverport strives to maintain an attractive business environment for both our companies and the neighboring community. When Riverport chooses to invest successfully, you tend to see a lot of related investment from other companies that follow. People have bought land adjacent to our development. You will see new investment around there, housing and retail growth, other real estate developers buying land because we have paved the way, we are proven.”

Like every area of business and industry, maintaining a solid and reliable workforce is paramount to Jefferson Riverport. The challenges faced by business investors are such that there is an onus on the authority to support its businesses by giving them access to skilled, competent workers. “The challenges that we try to overcome, that we are hearing from the business community, are workforce challenges. They want to be in the area but they also want a skilled and ready workforce going forward. You might be able to get more land in a rural area; however, often those rural areas are shrinking.”

With plans afoot for infrastructure to develop further, the challenge of sourcing skilled workers is one which needs to be met. Yates is confident that, through liaising with government and educational institutions, Jefferson Riverport is perfectly placed to provide the solid and dependable workforce needed for continued success.

“If you plan on being somewhere for decades to come, a place like southwest Louisville is a safe bet. We are a growing, vibrant community. We meet the needs of those challenges by connecting our businesses with that workforce, bridging that gap in between. It has been a challenge; we are creating new programs, working with our partners in local and state government to create these avenues so that our businesses feel confident that the workforce is going to be there for them.”

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