Eastern Kern will be the site of a major goods-movement project expected to help address shipping bottlenecks at ports in Southern California while attracting local investment and possibly new jobs in a sector usually associated with the valley portion of the county.
The county Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on the Mojave Inland Port, proposed by a Houston-based developer that says the privately financed project will open by 2024 operating nonstop to handle up to 3 million 20-foot-equivalent containers per year.
Located next to the Mojave Air and Space Port, the 402-acre property near highways 14 and 58 is one of few areas in the state served by air, road and rail transportation. It was chosen partly for that reason and because of ample space nearby for additional warehouse development by customers like Amazon, Walmart and Lowe's.
Los Angeles' Beacon Economics has estimated the project will generate $113 million in Kern and support 662 regional jobs during construction, adding $73 million to the county's property-tax base. It says the development will ultimately support 2,851 permanent jobs in Kern, with positions ranging from foreman and crane operator to manager and driver.
Developer Pioneer Partners, whose biggest project to date is a 2,200-acre brownfield development in Henderson, Nev., said 75 people will work directly for the inland port engaging with more than 1,000 truck drivers.
The idea is that ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, where land is scarce, will send container-carrying rail cars along the Alameda Corridor to Mojave, 90 miles away. There the containers will be lifted using wheeled gantry cranes and placed onto tractor-trailer rigs that will then drive away on the freeway system.
The air and space port is expected to see more traffic as a result of the project.
"We believe the additional container traffic coming to Mojave will stimulate its use as a hub for air and space cargo, taking advantage of its 12,500-foot heavy lift runway directly adjacent to a new, state-of-the-art intermodal cargo hub," Pioneer said in response to emailed questions.
Some work remains to be done with regard to permitting of buildings at the site. Project groundbreaking is expected in early 2023. A final price tag has not been released.
Port container volumes have been growing quickly even before the pandemic caused disruptions that have made improving goods movement a high priority for U.S. importers and exporters.
Pioneer says moving cargo-handling activities inland presents fewer environmental impacts than expanding operations at the ports.
Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said in a news release the rise in shipping traffic shows no sign of letting up.
“Being surrounded by the dense urban areas of Long Beach and South Los Angeles, there is limited real estate available," she stated. "The Mojave Inland Port is the type of innovative solution that will alleviate congestion and allow dockworkers to do their jobs more efficiently, getting goods to businesses and consumers faster."
In Kern, distribution centers in recent years have been built mainly in Shafter, near the Grapevine and near Meadows Field Airport. The Inland Port project would appear to signal that more such development is headed to the Mojave area.
Vice President Bill Deaver at the Mojave Chamber of Commerce noted the proposal has been around for more than a decade and that in all that time he has heard no opposition to it.
His hope is the project will help the county replace the local oil production industry.
"This is another new business that you can replace the old business," Deaver said, adding he expects to see new investment follow announcement of the inland port.
"You get more people, you're going to need more grocery stores," he said.