Saturday, January 26, 2013

One Million Square Feet

Tracy, California, is kind of a funky place. Most people in my circles know it as

that place about 45 minutes east of here, on the way to Yosemite, where you can stop and grab a cup of coffee when you've left the Bay Area at 4:45 A.M. on your way to the mountains.

Tracy is located smack in the middle of California's Central Valley. Longitudinally, it is over on the west side of the valley; latitudinally, it's almost perfectly in the middle of the valley, halfway from Bakersfield to Redding.

In the summer, Tracy is hot and dry; in the winter, it is cool and dry. But, as the old saying goes, what Tracy has going for it is location, location, location:

  1. It is in a large open space, where land is plentiful and cheap
  2. It is abundantly served by large highways and major railroad lines
  3. It is about as close to the Bay Area, and to the Port of Oakland, as you can get, and still satisfy rules #1 and #2.
All of which makes Tracy about ideal for that particular specimen of industrial development: the distribution center.

Tracy doesn't get much mention in the news, but it had another 15 seconds of fame this week, as Amazon rolled out some information about its newest project: Amazon Sets Up (Really Big) Shop to Get You Your Stuff Faster.

Amazon’s strategy hinges on getting its inventory as close as possible to as many people as possible. The closer Amazon can get its stuff to the people who want it, the faster and cheaper the company can get it to them.

As the article points out, Amazon previously located its distribution centers outside of the state, but an agreement with the state government over sales tax issues has changed Amazon's practice.

And Tracy isn't the only such center. In southern California, the same story is being repeated, in the SoCal version of Tracy:

Amazon’s first distribution center in the state went up in San Bernardino, which filed for bankruptcy last year. Amazon gets cheap land and cheap labor; hard-hit communities get hundreds of jobs; and in Northern California at least, everyone who orders from Amazon seems likely to have their online consumer cravings satisfied faster than ever.

I have a close friend who is a distribution center specialist; he designs and operates distribution centers for Nike. These facilities really are amazing: complex, high-tech, incredibly efficient.

And I'm sure it would be no surprise to Lathrop J. Tracy, if he were to see what's become of the city named for him one hundred years ago, since distribution is what gave Tracy its start:

The origins of Tracy are related to the mid-19th century construction of Central Pacific Railroad lines running from Sacramento through Stockton and to the San Francisco Bay Area. A number of small communities sprang up along these lines, including the one named for railroad director Lathrop J. Tracy.

I guess that the next time I find myself zooming past Tracy, flying down the super-speedway on my way to the Sierra Nevadas or points elsewhere, I'll try to remember to turn my head to the side and take a peek at the anonymous buildings as I pass by, and see if I can tell which one is the new One Million Square Feet.

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