BETHEL TWP., Pa. - Driving along Interstate 78 in Berks County, the rapidly shifting change from an agrarian to logistical economy is no more evident than in Bethel Township.
On Wednesday, NorthPoint Development broke ground on a one-million-square-foot, $50-million distribution warehouse at Berks Park 78.
The Kansas City, Missouri-based company said it has been eyeing the site for years.
"Despite the DEP's best efforts to slow us down, we are here and excited to make this investment," Nathaniel Hagedorn, NorthPoint's founder and CEO told those at the ceremony.
The yet-to-be-leased building promises 400 jobs, with 150 being immediate for construction work.
Proponents of the project cite job creation and its $1 million in property taxes as key benefits.
This is just the latest of at least seven new warehouses being built near I-78 in Bethel Township. It's part of 30 million square feet of warehouse space the county is advertising.
"Farmland preservation and development are not mutually exclusive," said county Commissioner Christian Leinbach. "They can and do work together in Berks County."
There has been, however, local pushback on that notion. Neighbors have lobbied the township supervisors to keep a nearby farm zoned agricultural. Earlier this week, the supervisors upheld that zoning.
Attorney Jim Smith, who represented some of the residents, added that the township's 2015 comprehensive plan includes a survey saying what residents want most is to keep the township's rural setting and to protect farmland.
Smith said it also shows most residents say warehouses are the number one thing that detracts from the township.
"This is exactly where this type of project belongs, along a federal highway, I-78," Leinbach said, "not in the middle of Berks County or Tilden Township."
As the country's appetite for e-commerce continues to grow, Pam Shupp Menet, the county's new director of economic development, said so, too, will the warehouse footprint.
"So we are going to see more and more warehouses and distribution centers closer to home," she said, "because they want to be closer to their consumer."