Dairy juggernaut Fonterra is eyeing Hamilton for its second $100 million-plus regional freight hub development, as recognition of the Waikato as an important future import and export axis gathers steam.
New Zealand's biggest company expects to have outgrown capacity at its big six-year-old $100m Crawford St stores and freight hub complex at Te Rapa within two to four years and is looking for a second site, said Fonterra director of group supply chain Joe Coote.
Fonterra is well aware of Tainui Group Holdings plan for a 400-plus hectare, $3 billion inland port on its land at Ruakura, he said.
But there were other ''good sites'', including the ''interesting'' Northgate industrial park land north of Te Rapa.
''A lot of freight comes up from the lower North Island to Auckland and Tauranga (ports) and in my mind will continue to come up through the Waikato. Our interest is somewhere around Hamilton, south of Hamilton and north of Hamilton and even South Auckland.''
Coote said the likely investment in the second freight hub would be ''at least $100 million''.
Fonterra is the second big company in a week to announce it is considering the Waikato for freight logistics development.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said his company was eyeing the region for an inland port. The announcement this week by global shipping giant Maersk that it was switching 52 ship calls to Tauranga from Auckland had sharpened the focus on the Waikato, Cairns said.
Transport officials predict that by 2031 the Waikato will be the biggest generator of freight in the country.
Global logistics company Mainfreight said Hamilton is a ''high priority'' for expanding its freight facilities. The company, currently based in Te Rapa had development site ''irons in the fire'', said managing director Don Braid.
Any future Mainfreight hub had to be served by rail. The Ruakura option was ''four years away and we need something sooner'', Braid said.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said the Ruakura proposal was ''an exciting idea'' and his company was working with interested parties.
''But a lot more work is required to really understand what the potential is and how much it will be an inland port versus a freight village. But clearly if industry wants to invest in an area like that we would want to be involved.''
Quinn said some KiwiRail import and export customers would be more keen on hubbing with the main North Island trunk line, rather than the east coast main line that bisects Ruakura.
Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Mike Pohio said the Ruakura project was different from other companies' freight hub plans because it was ''master planned'' for 50 to 100 years into the future. It would not be developed in a fragmented way by different parties.