MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — In what is being described as big a game-changer as Procter and Gamble or Macy’s, Inter-Modal Holding LLC of Steubenville, Ohio, has announced it plans to make a major investment at the Eastern Regional Airport.
“IMH and our partner, Drakon Technologies, located in San Luis Potosi in Mexico, will together invest $50 million to establish a trade corridor between San Luis Potosi and the Eastern Regional Airport,” Rod Kreie, IMH finance officer, told The Journal Friday. “We will be operating air assets in and out of the Eastern Regional Airport and the San Luis Potosi airport.”
The freight primarily will be perishables, such as fruits, vegetables and flowers, Kreie said.
“Drakon is currently trucking their produce, which takes time,” he said. “This will open up markets on the East Coast. This is such a good location. You are geographically blessed. This is the perfect location.”
IMH and Drakon announced the project in Weirton Thursday, and presented members of the Eastern Regional Airport Authority with a cashier’s check for $250,000.
Kreie had announced the generous donation at the Airport Authority’s meeting Tuesday, and the authority members unanimously voted to accept the offer “with no strings attached, no preferential treatment, no quid pro quo.”
“Our philosophy is if the community is healthy, it is easier for us to be healthy,” Kreie said Friday. “The Eastern Regional Airport must prepare for us, and this will help relieve the financial strain on their budget.”
San Luis Potosi, or SLP, is one of the main industrial centers in central Mexico. It is located halfway between Mexico City and the U.S. border. It also is situated in the middle of the triangle formed by the three largest cities in Mexico: Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Its nickname is the City of Gardens.
Kreie said the project would be phased in over five years.
“We should have 500 employees in the area in the next five years – we especially like to hire veterans, because they are already trained in logistics,” he said. “We’re not sure when we’ll start. We have some logistics to work out with the Eastern Regional Airport Authority like rate structure and landing fees, and we need to do some construction at the airport.”
Kreie said the employees would be mostly administration and ground-support staff. He said the pay would be a “good living wage, not minimum wage.”
IMH would own its own fleet of wide-body cargo jets, he said, adding they actually would be heavier than the C-17 aircraft the 167th Airlift Wing flies. At full service, he said there would be as many as 2,000 flights per year, which would be five to six flights per day.
“We would try to fly at times that are not abrasive to the community,” Kreie said.
There also would be a lot of truck traffic hauling the freight from the airport, he said. IMH has partnered with Fleetmaster Express Inc., which is headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia, to be its freight hauler. Fleetmaster has locations in 12 states, including West Virginia at Weirton, he said.
The Interstate 81 and Tabler Station Road interchange is less than two miles from the airport.
Construction at the airport would include a ramp that could accommodate the heavy weights of the cargo planes, Kreie said.
Additionally, IMH is a real estate development company, he said.
“History is important to IMH,” Kreie said. “Maintaining historical value combined with next-gen technology is really cool. We will buy old real estate and restore it. We’re looking for historical assets to preserve.”
Contacted by phone Friday, Rick Wachtel, chairman of the Airport Authority, said the announcement was the culmination of an eight-year process.
“The conversations began eight years ago,” he said. “There were a lot of hiccups along the way because of the economy. The recession caused the delays. But we kept the lines of communication open. I really thought we could get the deal done. This success is really the work of Bill Walkup (airport manager). And a lot of people, past and present, put in hundreds of hours on this project, like (former airport members) Jim Reuss and Hunter Wilson and (current member) Steve Cox. It’s paying off.”
He said that IMH’s investment is one of the biggest investments ever in West Virginia.
“It shows the airport has credibility,” Wachtel said. “It’s a game-changer.”
Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or twitter.com/jmcveyJN.