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Transportation

A quick look at a highway map shows a major transportation plus for the Greater Omaha area: it’s a crossroads for two major interstates: east-west I-80, “the country’s main street,“ and Canada-to-Mexico I-29/35.

It takes a little more checking to pick up on another big plus: crossroads of two big freight railroads, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. (Look a little more and find the metropolitan area has a third Class I railroad, Canadian National in Council Bluffs on the Iowa side of the Missouri River.)

Digging turns up 50 trucking companies, among them intermodal and international shipping logistics giant Werner Enterprises, a Fortune 1000 company based on a southwest Omaha hilltop overlooking I-80. There’s more: multiple-carrier Eppley Airfield, barge terminals on the Missouri, a foreign trade zone, a UPS hub and U.S. Postal Service capability for handling major mailers like First Data’s credit-card bill-printing operation.

The interstates put businesses within a day’s drive or less of customers and suppliers in Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, the Canadian border and deep into Texas. In two days, trucks can reach nearly all of the continental U.S.

More than 1.2 million people live within an hour’s drive of Omaha. With the area’s good roads network, that’s easily 55 miles. “We take extra care to explain that to retailers looking at Omaha,“ said Rod Moseman, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s vice president of economic development. “Fifty-five miles in New York is a two-hour drive.“

Other driving times are also short. Average home-to-work commute is less than 20 minutes. The airport is five minutes from downtown and the headquarters of ConAgra Foods, multi-state banking and credit-card issuer First National Bank of Omaha and Union Pacific. A few minutes farther away is the headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway, the new owner of Fort Worth-based BNSF.

Also within minutes of the airport, the rail yards and interstates is Foreign Trade Zone No. 19 (FTZ), which has 250,000 square feet of warehouse space on 17 acres of security-fenced land. The FTZ is under the supervision of the U.S. Customs Department. Businesses defer duty payments on foreign goods stored there until the time they enter U.S. trading channels. The zone has facilities for repackaging, assembling, manufacturing, repairing and testing.

Barges ply the Missouri River 10 months of the year, upstream to the head of shipping at Sioux City, Iowa, and downstream to New Orleans via the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

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