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Jobs coming to Manteca-Lathrop via the railroad

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POSTED April 27, 2011 12:27 a.m.
Curse the trains that pass through Manteca and Lathrop if you must but keep in mind they are arguably the catalyst that will generate the most jobs in the coming years in both communities.

And the trains that promise the most are those hauling nothing but truck trailers and container boxes on flat bed rail cars.

Railroads across the country are seeing a major uptick in such freight movement ranging from 4 to 17 percent in the last year alone. Union Pacific, which operates an intermodal facility in Lathrop that it’s planning to more than triple in size, was up 4 percent but views 2010 as a low in terms of traffic gain.

And while the Lathrop facility nestled against Manteca’s western city limits is highly visible there is one more intermodal facility in Manteca’s backyard eight miles to the northwest via Jack Tone Road. Both the Santa Fe and UP intermodal facilities are situated where they are because of two things - South San Joaquin County’s proximity to the Bay Area and Sacramento consumer markets as well as key freeways including Interstate 5, Highway 9, and Interstate 205.

Trucks can easily move goods that are being shipped via rail 500 miles or more in 20- to 53-foot containers from manufacturing plants in both regions to either intermodal facility and do so in about an hour or so. The same is true of goods moving into the Bay Area or Sacramento heading to points 500 or more miles away.

The 500-mile mark is critical. That is the point where the movement of goods in containers via intermodal is more efficient and less expensive than going by truck the entire distance. Trucks are still critical to get the containers to and from the intermodal facilities.

That means trucking jobs.

But that is just the beginning. A growing number of major concerns whether they are national retailers with distribution centers or manufacturers who supply them are seeing the value of locating new intermodal facilities.

It helps reduce turnaround times plus cuts shipping costs from distribution center to intermodal facility. And if an intermodal facility is located in easy striking distance of major urban areas and has the ability to accommodate business park growth nearby, it makes an area even more appealing.

In many cases firms that sell to retailers will locate their facilities near transportation to take delivery of materials and/or near clusters of distribution centers that are potential customers.

That is where big cubes - as many of the new mega business parks are called - come into play. They are built as shells which allow quick turnaround time to prepare them for tenants’ needs. Most of the space is leased which gives firms additional flexibility.

There are a number of such complexes in Manteca-Lathrop that are ready for tenants and more are being processed through the entitlement process in both cities.

Some slam this as overbuilding capacity but it isn’t. Banks - and developers - aren’t in the business today of making highly speculative investments. They are putting their money where they have a solid opportunity to make it work. They are investing now to capitalize quickly when the recovery picks up steam.

Both Manteca and Lathrop are well positioned to nab firms that may want to relocate or expand as the economy picks up. Rest assured that transportation costs - which have always factored into location decisions - will continue as a major concern to a firm’s bottom line.

And unlike much ballyhooed high-tech jobs, it doesn’t take an extremely high level of skills - just a solid work ethic - to land such jobs. And almost all such jobs are solid and decent paying with some such as at Ford’s Manteca small parts distribution center rivaling Bay Area wages.

Manteca and Lathrop have developed and planned business parks that are right on top of freeways that have minimal commercial or residential between them and freeway access points.

The jobs the railroad can bring may not be “flashy” but they are solid and steady. Both are attributes you should appreciate in a community with a 16 percent unemployment rate.

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