Gary Pinnell | Highlands Today

Published: July 8, 2012 | Updated: March 11, 2013 at 07:28 PM


In the 20th century, Americans learned the term "intermodal" — the nexus of air, sea, roads and rail.

The new concept is an "integrated logistics center," said Mark Morton, a senior vice president for Lykes Bros. He's proposing a 30 million-square-foot logistics park in Glades County.

Contemplate that number: Avon Park's Walmart is 190,819 square feet; Lakeshore Mall takes up 650,000 square feet. Thirty million square feet is 35 times larger than both combined.

Not only would Americas Gateway Logistics Center move whatever Florida grows or makes — strawberries from Plant City or precast stone from Orlando — it would also be an assembly point for unfinished goods. Think of a wheelbarrow, for example: a manufacturer could order wheels from Michigan, a plastic or metal tub from New England and pine handles from Georgia, but it would be put together in Moore Haven.

"An ILC should house distribution, manufacturing, staging yards and processing sites as well as repair buildings to ensure efficient, uninterrupted operations spaced throughout the day," said Morton's PowerPoint presentation. Its purpose would be to connect manufacturers with the market by providing an industrial campus."

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The ILC is the concept of Lykes Bros. and A. Duda & Sons.

Lykes, a 112-year-old family company headquartered in Tampa but centered in Glades, is one of the largest private landowners in Florida and Texas with agriculture, citrus, ranching, insurance, land management and bio-energy operations.

Duda, a fourth-generation family corporation in Oviedo, is another diversified land and real estate firm that grows vegetables, citrus, sod, sugar cane and cattle.

America's Gateway is within 120 minutes of three railroads, three Interstate highways, eight U.S. highways, the Florida Turnpike, three airports and four seaports: Port of Miami, Port Everglades, Port Manatee and Port of Palm Beach. It would be designated a foreign trade zone for tax purposes.

Where would all the goods go? To what Morton calls "an emerging market of middle-class consumers in the Eastern U.S., Mexico, Central America, South America, South Africa, Western Europe, China and Southeast Asia. The location will benefit from the widening of the Panama Canal, which will open Florida to large Asian container ships.

"That buying power has emerged in the past few years," Morton said. "Florida used to be considered at the end of the supply chain. But we're the closest to the Panama Canal."

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The central issue is always jobs. Morton estimated 24,000 to 65,000 primary jobs by 2030 in construction, trucking, maintenance, warehouse, dispatch, management, parts, rail, heavy equipment operators and security.

Secondary jobs would come from shippers, distributors, freight forwarders, manufacturers, fuel suppliers, retail and restaurants.

That's why, even though Sebring is 60 miles away and Wauchula is 20 miles farther, Morton presented the concept to Heartland Workforce, which serves Hardee, DeSoto and Highlands counties.

"Our residents will get jobs," said Roger Hood, president of Heartland Workforce. In fact, a logistics center that large would include all of South Florida.

Morton thinks groundbreaking could begin next year.

According to a brochure, the intermodal hub would be situated on 4,700 acres, with 2,000 more acres set aside. It would supply more than 8 million consumers within Florida's southwest, southeast and Heartland.

"The location has great access to competitive labor and distribution markets. Yet companies will be able to move goods in and out efficiently, bypassing Florida's congested coastal residential and tourist areas," said Jamie Kishel, director of operations and national industrial services for commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield. "The site is also ideally located for trucking transportation, with easy access to major U.S. and Florida highways."

The center would also offer opportunities to colleges like South Florida State College to train students, Hood said. "We need to find out what their skill set needs are.

"This could be huge," Hood said. "This sets up Florida as a huge logistical player on imports and exports."

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