Ramping up

Published 12:27 am Monday, November 19, 2012

Officials cut the ribbon at the Ace Hardware warehouse in the CenterPoint development on July 26. It was the first warehouse to open in the CenterPoint development. True to the company's merchandise, the ribbon was nailed to wooden pallets and cut with a pair of garden shears.

Companies turning to Suffolk for distribution

As 2012 draws to a close, elected officials and economic development officers in Suffolk continue to ride a wave of openings in what has become the city’s fastest-growing business sector: warehousing and distribution.

Since July, three huge distribution facilities have opened in Suffolk industrial parks, two of them in October alone. Ace Hardware, Sumitomo Machinery Corp. and the Naval Exchange Service Command have all rolled up their big bay doors and started filling tractor trailers from loading docks located in their new facilities this year. Their opening heralds a new wave of businesses in the logistics and transportation services sector for Suffolk.

From Northgate Logistics Center to CenterPoint Intermodal Center, from the Virginia Regional Commerce Park to the Westport Commerce Park and at other sites around the city, warehouse buildings with 28- and 32-foot ceiling heights are rising out of what was once farmland or forest, making Suffolk a quick favorite of companies looking to open distribution points near the growing Hampton Roads ports and the highway arteries leading into the American heartland.

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“That’s one of the things we were looking for, was a good harbor location,” Caspari Inc. President Douglas Stevens said in 2011, when his company became the first tenant in the Virginia Regional Commerce Park off of Pruden Boulevard.

Caspari’s high-end paper products are printed overseas and shipped to the Hampton Roads port, where the containers holding them are loaded onto trucks for delivery to the Suffolk warehouse. From that location, the original containers are broken down and redistributed into new containers that are then loaded onto other trucks headed for retail sellers around the country.

It’s the distribution model of the future for companies of all types, and Suffolk is situated right by an East Coast focal point.

“This distribution center became an integral part of our mission to expand,” Sumitomo President and CEO Ronald J. Smith said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company’s new Virginia Regional Commerce distribution center in October. Among other things, Sumitomo makes parts for conveyor systems, and the new location gives the company more control of its distribution system and enables conversion of its Chesapeake facility to manufacturing.

“For our company, it’s truly innovative,” Smith told a group of visitors.

There was a similar feeling of innovation during the July grand opening of a 336,000-square-foot Ace Hardware distribution center in the sprawling CenterPoint Intermodal Center on Holland Road. The facility gives Ace, the largest hardware company in the country, the ability to receive imported goods on the East Coast for the first time, company officials said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The cost savings realized from reducing travel miles and time for trucks headed to Ace retailer support centers as far west as Texas will help cut delivery costs. “That means hundreds of thousands of customers of this facility will benefit,” said James Hatcher, a member of the company’s board of directors and one of its store owners.

Another new CenterPoint tenant, the Naval Exchange Service Command, or NEXCOM, expects similar results for its customers, the men and women who serve or have served in the U.S. Navy. NEXCOM’s Suffolk facility will handle about $146 million worth of merchandise a year, supporting 112 Navy Exchanges and 41 Marine Corps Exchanges in the United States, as well as warehouses in Europe, Bahrain, Cuba and Africa.

“This building will further enable us to deliver this benefit our sailors and their families have earned and so richly deserve,” Robert Bianchi, chief executive officer of the Navy Exchange Service Command, said at the facility’s grand opening celebration.

“The real end game,” added Fourth-District Congressman J. Randy Forbes, “is that we’re looking to say, ‘How can we take care of these men and women who are getting up every single day and fighting to keep us free?’”

Suffolk now plays an important part in meeting that goal.