Who could have predicted that Robbinsville, a once sleepy farming community on the outskirts of the Route 1 corridor, would become one of the hottest locations for warehouse distribution centers?
Dave Fried, the third-term mayor, has always campaigned on being the pro-business candidate. And business is coming to Robbinsville, with Fortune 500 companies building giant facilities near Exit 7A of the New Jersey Turnpike. Whether the development is because of Fried’s policies or not is a point for politicians to argue, but there is no denying that many businesses are looking at industrial space in Robbinsville.
Amazon is nearing completion of its 1.2 million-square-foot mega warehouse (the company calls it a fulfillment center) located in a 950-acre business park owned by Matrix Development Group. The online retailer expects the facility to be complete in late spring or early summer. Meanwhile, Matrix has broken ground on a 180,000-square-foot facility it is building on spec, without a tenant. In December it started work on a 220,000-square-foot building for Falken Tire.
The same business park will house a 350,000-square-foot McKesson Corp. warehouse, completing all the planned development in the park, which started in 1992.
On Montgomery Way, just off I-195, Mercedes-Benz has occupied an equally huge facility, at 1.2 million square feet, where it distributes parts imported from Europe. The high-tech facility opened in 2005.
The Amazon project is moving with unprecedented speed. “When Amazon opens, it will have been 18 months from the time they came before the planning board to the time they cut the ribbon,” Fried says. “It’s incredible to think about what a herculean feat that was.”
Fried will discuss the latest warehouse deals, as well as plans for future development, at the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce’s State of Robbinsville Address Thursday, March 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Ritchie & Page Distributing Company at 175 New Canton Way in Robbinsville. For more information, visit www.midjerseychamber.org or call 609-689-9960, ext. 21. Tickets are $40 for chamber members, $55 for nonmembers.
“One thing Robbinsville has become known for is our ability to attract Fortune 500 companies,” Fried says. “The reason for our ability to attract business is that our process for getting business done on time and on budget has become very predictable. That is one of the things larger companies are looking for right now. They have very specific timetables. Our process is probably our number one advantage.”
Fried says his administration streamlined the process for businesses getting approval for moving to town. “When I first became mayor, one thing I heard was how difficult it was to do business with our town, starting with the planning board and moving forward to the whole process of getting approval. We’ve really dedicated ourselves to creating a process that makes sense.”
Fried says the township works to process applications quickly, which is important when big companies like Amazon come to town with aggressive building schedules. “The Amazon warehouse is the largest ratable being built in New Jersey right now, and I’m happy to say that it’s on time or ahead of schedule. Even with the nightmare weather we have been having, we have been able to keep up with the most aggressive schedule.”
Fried says the township makes sure to get paperwork and inspections done quickly, which means fewer delays and more predictability for builders.
One factor in Robbinsville’s warehouse boom Fried cannot take credit for is Robbinsville’s location. There is undeveloped land within easy driving distance of both the Turnpike and I-195, giving access to the state’s main north-south and east-west roadways.
Another factor is a general clamor for industrial space. According to real estate analysts, 2013 was a banner year for the Exit 7A submarket for warehouse space, with more space being absorbed that year than any year since 2004. Analysts said the total vacancy for warehouse space in Central New Jersey had declined 10 percent, down to about 11 percent overall. The analysts speculated the activity was due to the Grow New Jersey tax incentive program, and a lack of development sites to the north. The analysts said declining energy prices due to natural gas drilling have boosted domestic industry.
Amazon’s warehouse will bring 1,400 jobs to the township, with even more seasonal posts being added. It will likely be one of the highest-tech warehouses yet constructed.
Earlier this year, Amazon announced its intention to deliver packages by drone. Whether drone delivery is the way of the future or just pie-in-the-sky remains to be seen, but it’s a subject that has been on Fried’s mind since he heard about it. He says Amazon has not approached him to ask for permission to fly drones from the distribution center.
“I think it’s an interesting and creative idea,” he says of the drone plan. “It’s not lost on me how close they are to Robbinsville Airport,” the small general aviation airfield on Sharon Road.
Fried often says he likes to run Robbinsville as a business, and he has some experience running businesses. He is the son of Renee Dale, the founder of Force II Personnel, which operated until the mid-1990s at 13 Roszel Road. After graduating from Glassboro (now Rowan) in 1989, it didn’t take him long to start his own business. He opened his first outsourcing firm, HRA, in 1992. That business was eventually bought by Fidelity Investments and now operates as Fidelity Employers Service Company.
The sale of his first business left Fried to take some time off to get married and start a career as a Robbinsville councilman. In 2001 he founded AdminaSource, an HR management company that eventually changed its name to Tricore Payroll Cost Management. The company, headquartered on Washington Boulevard, handles payroll for about 300 businesses.
Should the Route 1 corridor beware of businessman Fried building Robbinsville into a major rival? Not likely, Fried says.
Though the town is attracting major companies, it has not become the site for any major corporate headquarters. “We do not have a lot of land that’s really set up for corporate headquarters,” he says. “We are taking a hard look at the Mercer Corporate Park on the 195 corridor. That could become suitable for a large corporate headquarters. That’s something we would look at in the future.”
“I don’t know that we want to become the next U.S. 1,” Fried says. “We have a nice balance. We want to keep our rural character. We have become aggressive at preserving open space and aggressive about maintaining that residential character and managing traffic. I want to make sure we are a place that has ratables and good places to work, but that is balanced.”