OREFIELD, Pa. – From his office in an old barn in a turkey farm, David watches a huge flat-screen TV with video feeds from Jandle Hatchery to the processing room, where the birds are bitten. Mr. Jandle is a third-generation farmer in the Leh Valley, Pennsylvania. Their turkeys are sold at Whole Foods and served at the White House on Thanksgiving.
But Mr. Jandle has more than just turkey in his business. For decades, he has been involved in developing the land into offices, medical facilities and subdivisions, as the area in and around the Leh Valley has evolved from its agricultural and manufacturing roots to become a health care and higher education center as well.
Now Mr. Jaindal is participating in a new innings. Huge warehouses are growing like mushrooms on local highways, on country roads and on farm fields. The surprising growth of Amazon and other e-commerce retailers and the nation’s largest concentration of online shoppers, about 80 miles away, is being driven in large part by the proximity of the New York City area.
“They are definitely good for our area,” said Mr. Jendal, who is developing land for several new warehouses. “They add a good tax base and good employment.”
But warehouses are being built at such a rapid pace that many residents worry about the landscape of the area, the quality of life and long-term economic well-being are in danger. E-commerce is fueling job growth, but the work is physically taxing, does not pay as well as manufacturing and can eventually be phased out by automation. Still the godowns are leaving their mark. There are proposals to widen local roads to accommodate thousands of additional trucks hauling goods from hawking structures.
A huge warehouse is to be built on the site of a 259-year-old cemetery, which is believed to contain the remains of a Revolutionary War captain, in the township of Maxtavani, Pa., West of Leh Valley. Unmarked grave of a woman whom he had enslaved.
A short distance away, near a group of Mennonite farms, a tractor-trailer collided with a horse drawn buggy in late March, overturned it and sent a passenger to the hospital and left the horse loose.
Close to Allentown, the region’s largest city, FedEx has built a new “ground hub”, one of its largest facilities in the United States. A billboard down the road advertises legal representation for those injured in truck accidents.
“They are coming here and building shiny new warehouses and erasing pieces of history,” said Julie Winkler, whose ancestors are buried in the MaxTawney cemetery. “Who knows if these big buildings will be useful even in 50 years.”
Developers are very confident in the development of the industry, however, especially after the epidemic. Large warehouse companies such as Prologis and Duke Realty are investing billions in local assets. Many warehouses are being built before tenants sign up, leading some to wonder if there is a bubble and whether some of these huge buildings will ever be filled.
“People are calling it warehouse fatigue,” Dr. Christopher R., a member of the Regional Planning Commission. Amato said. “It feels like we’re just being submerged.”
The area now has about the same number of warehousing and transport operations as there are manufacturing positions. But it’s not a milestone everyone celebrates – not in an area that hopes to keep its high-paying manufacturing sector alive, even though some of its biggest employers, such as Bethlehem Steel, shut down long ago.
Manufacturing jobs in Leh Valley averaged $ 71,400 per year, compared to $ 46,700 working in a warehouse or driving a truck. The area is still home to large manufacturing plants that produce crayola crayons and marshmallow peep candies.
Don Cunningham, chief executive of the Leh Valley Economic Development Corporation, says warehouse jobs are increasing employment and wages, especially for unskilled workers.
“If you want to take away this economic opportunity for the entire field of workers, where do they go?” Mr. Cunningham said. “They may end up on some kind of government aid or get stuck in the criminal justice system.”
Mr Cunningham, whose father worked in the local steel industry, said that he believed that distribution jobs were not ideal.
“But to be able to earn $ 16 an hour with a high school diploma, there are not many places in America where you can do that,” he said. “It’s a really good field for low-skilled workers. It at least gives them a fighting chance to get a living wage.”
A depot on the global supply chain
For Kirk R. Johnson, the Leh Valley is a dreamscape. Land is available, but not much, which helps to keep the values high. Two major interstate areas pass through the northeast from the freight carrying area. About 30 percent of American consumers are within a day’s truck drive.
Looking for an investment opportunity, Mr. Johnson, chief investment officer of Watson Land Company, a vast owner of warehouses in Southern California, teamed up with Mr. Jendal. Together, they are developing three new warehouse projects around the Leh Valley, totaling three million square feet, or about 60 football fields. They are being made speculative, meaning that no tenant is in line.
“There are a lot of risks in development,” Mr. Johnson said, “and speculative construction is one of them.”
Mr. Jendal said that many concerns in the area about the warehouses were unreasonable. He said that the Leh Valley still had a large manufacturing base and that his land company was also seeing demand for homes and hotels, reflecting the strength of the economy beyond warehouses.
As an active farmer, whose grandfather started a business with just a few turkeys, Mr. Jendal took his management of the land seriously, he said. His family is considered one of the most generous philanthropists in the area. He said, ‘Farming is our foundation.
He said that critics of the warehouse often did not acknowledge how important the industry had become during the epidemic. Many warehouses are being used to distribute food in the Northeast. “Truck drivers played a very important role in providing food and food to the people during the Kovid,” he said.
In business today
With most of the already built interstate land, developers are moving into rural areas. One of Mr. Jendal’s warehouse projects is slated for a farm just above the state line in White Township, N.J. Mr. Jendal said he built only half of the 600-acre site and conserved the rest as agricultural land. Had decided, even though he was entitled to develop the entire parcel.
The complex can add hundreds of truck trips a day on rural roads that pass through picturesque towns near the Delaware River. The nearest highway is about 12 miles from the proposed warehouse.
Tom Bodolsky moved to nearby Hope Township more than 40 years ago because it was a place where “he could see the stars at night.”
At the time, manufacturing plants were not far away, but no one thought that the region could become a depot on the global supply chain. “These towns caught up with their pants,” he said.
‘I was beaten up all over’
In promotional video Posted on the Economic Development Agency website are images of welders, builders and aerial footage of the former Bethlehem steel plant, which closed in the 1990s. The narrator describes Leh Valley ethos as home to “makers” and “dreamers”.
“We know the value of an honest day’s work,” the narrator said. “We practically wrote the book on it.”
Jason Arius found an honest day job in the Leh Valley warehouses, but he also found it difficult to bear the physical stress.
Mr. Arius moved to the region from Puerto Rico 20 years ago to work at a manufacturing plant. After being fired in 2010, Mr. Arius found a packing and scanning box at an Amazon warehouse. Work soon began to take a toll – constantly lifting boxes, bending and moving.
“Manufacturing is easy,” he said. “Everything was brought to you on a palette pushed by machines. The heaviest thing you pick up is a box of screws. “
One day, while coming down the stairs in the warehouse, Mr. Arius, 44, missed a step and felt some vibration in his hip as he landed awkwardly. It was a torn cartilage. At the time, Mr. Arius was earning $ 13 per hour. (Today, Amazon pays a minimum of $ 15 per hour.)
In 2012, Mr. Arius left Amazon and moved to a warehouse operated by a food distributor. After a few years, he suffered a shoulder injury during work and needed surgery.
“Every time I went home I was completely beaten up,” said Mr. Arius, who now drives a truck for UPS, a union job that he enjoys.
Regional planning officer Dr. Amato is a chiropractor, whose patients include distribution staff. He said that construction work is difficult, but the repetitive nature of working in a warehouse is not sustainable.
“If you take a coat hanger and do it back and forth 50 times, it will break,” he said. “If you’re picking up 25-pound boxes several times per hour, things eventually start to crumble.”
Dennis Hover, president of the local Teamsters Union, which represents drivers for UPS and other companies in the Leh Valley, said he is happy that new jobs have been created as a result of the e-commerce boom. Also, they are reminded everywhere by empty storefronts that other jobs are being destroyed.
“Every day you open a newspaper and see that another retail store is going out of business,” he said.
Not everyone can handle the physicality of warehouse work or have the temperament to drive a truck 10 hours a day. In fact, many distribution companies are having a hard time finding enough local workers to fill their openings and have to hire employees from outside the state, Mr. Hover said.
“You can always find someone who is willing to work for whatever you are going to pay them.”
A slave’s last resting place
Two years ago, there was no warehouse near the home of Lara Thomas in Shoemakersville, Pa., A town of 1,400 people west of the Leh Valley. Today, five of them are within walking distance.
“It makes my heart hurt,” Ms. Thomas said. “It’s a small community.”
A local history lover, Ms. Thomas is a member of a group of volunteers who regularly clean up old, dilapidated cemeteries in the area, including a cemetery in Maxtavani, about two miles from her church Is on
The cemetery, under a grove of trees next to a wide open field, is the last resting place of George L. Kemp, a farmer and captain in the Revolutionary War. Last summer, warehouse developer Duke Realty, based in Indianapolis, argued in county court that it had not found any surviving relatives of Mr. Kemp and proposed to move the graves to another location. A “logistics park” is planned on the property.
Meredith Goldie, a descendant of Kemp, was not impressed by the duke’s due diligence. “They didn’t look too hard.”
Ms. Goldie, other descendants and Ms. Thomas looked through the old estate and probate records and found Mr. Kemp’s will.
The documents stated that a woman enslaved by Mr. Kemp, identified only as Hannah, would be properly buried. While there is no visible marker for Hannah in the cemetery, the captain’s will strongly suggests that she is buried along with the rest of the family.
“This is not the Deep South,” Ms. Thomas said. “In the early 19th century it was almost unheard of for a family in eastern Pennsylvania to own a slave and then bury it with them.”
Several descendants of Mr. Kemp filed suit against Duke Realty to protect the cemetery. A judge has ordered both sides to find a solution by next month. A spokesperson for Duke Realty said in an email that the company is “optimistic that the parties will reach an amicable settlement in the near future.”
Ms. Thomas worries that if the bodies were exhumed and buried elsewhere, they would not be able to locate Hannah’s remains and would be buried under a warehouse.
“She will be lost,” he said.