Needles striving for designation as an ‘inland port’

NEEDLES, Calif. – The Needles City Council and government administration have been studying the possibility of Needles becoming an “Inland Port” which could provide a major boost to that city’s economy creating “thousands of jobs” in this city with a stable population of roughly 5,000 residents.

              The Inland Rivers Ports & Terminals is the trade association for America’s inland waterway, port, and terminal professionals and it was incorporated on May 29, 1974. Its mission “is to provide a platform for inland river port and terminal professionals to improve their businesses and to inform policymakers on the needs and economic impacts of our industry,” according to the IRPT.

              “At this point there’s such – candidly – wild guesses but potentially, there could be thousands of (new) jobs, said Needles City Manager, Rick Daniels who said if everything falls into place, Needles could be designated as an inland port in the next six months. “There are three things that we want to target. One is that trucks entering California have to meet California Air Resource Board requirements. California has the strictest diesel-emission standards in the country. So trucks that come into this state have to be California certified,” said Daniels.

              A lot of these international trucking companies need what is called a ‘bump station’ and that is where a tractor and trailer come in that’s not compliant (the tractor) and it switches to a California compliant tractor and goes on in the rest of the trip into the port or whatever. And then, the non-compliant truck picks up a trailer and heads back east so the first thing is for that switch to happen,” he said.

              Daniels said the second aspect of qualifying as an inland port focuses on the long-term incapability of nation’s freeway system to handle truck congestion. “It’s going to be non-existent and there’s going to be a need or requirement of a shift from truck to rail to (transport) containers and trailers to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” Daniels said. “This would be a good place for that to happen because we have a large Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad presence here.” The city manager said on average, 100 trains traveling east and west pass through Needles each day on this transcontinental line “and this could be a good transportation (intermodal) shift for that to occur.”

              Daniels said there are an estimated 150,000 residents living in the Tri-State region between Laughlin, Nev. and Lake Havasu City to which goods have to be transported. “We see this as an opportunity to build – for lack of a better term – a logistics or warehouse center. So (example) Nike brings in a truckload of tennis shoes and it goes to the warehouse where that big load gets broken down into shipments to individual stores and then gets freight-forwarded out. There’s an opportunity for it to be a regional distribution center,” he said.

              Daniels noted that historically cities in America developed along the confluence of transportation corridors such as rivers, later rail and in modern times, freeways. “What we do is we have all three although, essentially there is no freight moving by water, but with rail and freeway, we do have that confluence here. So we just see that as a ripe potential – we don’t know how deep that potential is. We do know, I think, in the long term it is a bright opportunity,” said Daniels. “We have properties that could be developed that way.

              “I believe the role of government is largely to get out of the way. That’s the way we try and operate here. What we really see is the role of government as facilitating the private sector to make the investments.” Daniels said the Needles government “won’t build anything or buy property or become a market participant. What we want to do is to define the scope of government as to really facilitate and assist private investment necessary for these businesses to thrive.”

              Daniels said the hope is that Needles’ designation as an inland port would benefit the local and regional economy, “which is why we’re very excited about the interest that has been shown.” Daniels noted there is support from District II Mohave County Supervisors, Hildy Angius (R-Bullhead City) and Steve Moss (R-Mohave Valley). Daniels pointed out that although the inland port or hub wouldn’t be in Mohave County, nevertheless, it would generate new jobs for the region and “would be a job opportunity for the people of Mohave County.”

              An inland port would tie into another economic development concept – the Interstate 40 Industrial Corridor – to which Needles is seen as a gateway into Mohave County because I-40 extends from Needles, to Lake Havasu City and on to Kingman. Daniels concedes that so far, he doesn’t think his city has developed a strategy “capitalize on that (corridor). The mayor and city council have identified that as an economic development priority to push this forward so people like me, who are the mechanics on this and to facilitate and organize it.”

              The Needles City Council approved moving forward with laying the necessary groundwork that would qualify Needles as an inland port. Daniels said change for Needles began with the advent of the new city council following the last municipal election. “One of the first things we did with the city council was to get them into a goal-setting session to begin to identify what their vision of the city is two, four, six, eight – 20 years out and to set goals.”

              Daniels said the number one goal was “fiscal stability” and the second, “economic development,” which directly relates to the first. Sub-goals under economic development were to identify the potential of establishing Needles as an inland port. “So, the next step was to analyze what it might take and identify those key leaders in the region that would need to collaborate to make this happen,” said the city manager.

              He said a steering committee or task force is being formed and that mayors and county supervisors in the Tri-State region have been invited to actively participate, the chairman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, U.S. Congressman Paul Cook of the 8th California District, California State Senator, Jean Fuller of the 16th Senate District and California State Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, Assembly District 33. “We’re probably looking at holding a meeting of this group within the next 30 days,” said Daniels.

Written by Thom McGraham, Economic Development Journal of Mohave County. Used with permission.

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