South of Seward sits a new industrial project 10 years in the making.
What started as an idea to expand industrial economic opportunity gained steam when Seward was selected as one community to be awarded a rail-based site. Then came the architecture design firm and heavy machinery.
Now the Seward Rail Campus nears major milestones on its way to completion.
The nearly-306-acre campus lies next to the BNSF railroad mainline while allowing enough room for a unit train on a proposed rail loop design. Over its years of planning, it has been meticulously tweaked so that it can best appeal to prospective clients.
As of June, the rail campus' first resident nears completion and operation. City Administrator Greg Butcher said that two interested parties have inquired about joining, but it's too early to tell if those deals will happen. Instead, Petsource by Scoular stands as the example officials hope gets the ball rolling on its greatest endeavor in years, according to the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership.
Petsource is plotted on the west side of the rail campus, falling into the light industrial area, as SCCDP President Jonathan Jank explained it. The east side of the campus is planned to suit more commercial businesses.
“We want to support other systems on the rail campus, truck traffic, vendors they work with,” Jank said. “We hope they're wildly successful. That's the hope, that it goes well and they continue to expand.”
Petsource is the first of its division, a freeze-dried protein source of dog food, in Scoular's 128-year history. Over that time, the family-owned business has emerged in the global market with grains and oilseeds, as well as speciality crops and livestock feed.
Despite weather and directed health measures handed down by Gov. Pete Ricketts, Petsource hasn't fallen behind schedule. Construction on the building and its interior has been completed, and it's next phase of outside grading and landscaping should finish within two months, according to director of operations Jon Heussner.
“It's been successful to date,” Heussner said. “It's really shaping up and starting to look like a complete site.”
Chris Rutt, who handles human resources for Petsource, thanked the city and its residents for help provided so far. The SCCDP reciprocated that appreciation.
“It's cool that Seward, Nebraska, is the flagship for this, and it's a great growth opportunity for them and what they're already doing,” Jank said. “They're buying-selling commodities. It's great and supports the local economy.”
Initially, Scoular announced Petsource would employ 100 workers at the start of production. Hutt said that since his hire, the project has grown from eight to 24 employees. There are still job openings from maintenance to operators, Rutt said, in case those around Seward County want to apply.
Jank said that he's already fielded calls about day care, housing, the housing market, the tangible conversations that represent Seward's continued growth.
“We're excited people are making homes in Seward County,” Jank said. “It affects the whole region and how we think about economic development.”
Planning for the rail campus has worked in partnership with the BNSF and its adjacent rail line. Since Seward was awarded one of the industrial spots by the state, county officials excitedly brainstormed about the campus' continued development. The city even developed a Rail Campus Committee. City council members discussed the next phase of development, even on a simple infrastructure level at its June 16 meeting.
Construction on turn lanes is complete. Next comes overhead street lights, followed by a stop light, according to the council. Since the rail campus is within city limits, the council maintains influence over at least part of that area – but they are working in conjunction with Nebraska Department of Transportation on what developments need to be made to accommodate increasingly heavy traffic.
Also on June 16, the council voted to add plots of land and supplied an updated map as its vision for the rail campus started developing. They also moved to name it campus's first main street Worthman Boulevard after a brick maker in the area responsible for industrial development around the city's infancy.
Council members got excited about intertwining history and progress. They waited through delays caused by the pandemic and now begin to see their patience rewarded.
“Timeline, schedule, adjustments – things went all over the place,” Butcher said. “Major work will be done this year and should be done shortly. It's easier to sell now that it's a reality. Now that there's a tenant in there instead of 2-D or just on paper.”
In terms of timeline, Heussner said Petsource is on schedule to start producing in September and deliver its first shipment of products this upcoming winter.
“It's really cool to be the first presence in that part of Seward,” Hutt said.
The Seward Rail Campus vision happened a decade ago, but Jank said its origins could as easily be traced back 150 years to the city's origins. Hughes Brothers, another family-owned Seward industry, celebrates 100 years of business next year. Walker Manufacturing (now Tenneco) has been a staple of Seward business since 1972. Now, 50 years later, Petsource by Scoular continues Seward's industrial development.
“It's strategic growth or quality growth. We're not growing for the sake of growing,” Jank said. “We have a lot of wonderful things going, so we want to make sure we're selective in how we're growing.”