When Staples was looking to expand its presence in the Midwest, it came to Beloit. Two years after opening, the order fulfillment center sends out 29,000 products a day to corporate and online customers around the Midwest.

When Staples was looking to expand its presence in the Midwest, it came to Beloit.

Two years after opening, the order fulfillment center sends out 29,000 products a day to corporate and online customers around the Midwest.

It’s the top-performing center in Staples’ system, manager Kyle Davis said.

“We put up two other facilities just like this one within a matter of months, and Beloit has vastly outperformed them,” he said. “I personally would encourage any business to do the same thing Staples has done.”

For the past several years, the Rock River Valley and Interstate 39 corridor have successfully marketed themselves as an ideal location for warehouses, distribution centers and other logistics operations. Developers and local officials say that once the economy picks up, and when more land and buildings are available, growth in those sectors will accelerate.

“The basics are there — there’s good labor, there’s good transportation, these are excellent communities to develop in,” said Mark Goode, principal for Chicagoland developer Venture One Real Estate, which has drawn big names such as Target, 3M and Con-way Freight to its industrial parks in the region. They join other major retailers such as Staples and Lowe’s in building in the area.

“When those kinds of companies, all of quality, locate recently in this corridor, you better believe people are taking note and saying, ‘What’s going on over there?’” Goode said. “It’s a good alternative to going to Joliet, Indianapolis and St. Louis, which are our competitors.”

Development has slowed somewhat as the weak economy causes retailers to pull back their plans, experts say, but there’s still been plenty of action.

Much of the recent activity has been in Rochelle, which is near two interstate highways, Union Pacific’s Global III intermodal hub and two rail lines.

The biggest project is Bay Valley Foods’ 600,000-square-foot distribution center, which started construction this summer. It’s being built by ProLogis — the world’s largest owner, manager and developer of distribution facilities — which owns a 300-acre park there. ProLogis hopes to bring an additional 2 million square feet of facilities to Rochelle eventually.

“For some of our customers who don’t specifically serve the city of Chicago directly, this a great location to get not only east and west but also north and south,” said Jon Sorg, marketing representative for ProLogis’ capital deployment group. “We see good things ahead for the corridor.”

Belvidere also is benefiting from distribution centers. Rockford-based Landmark Development has about 1 million square feet of distribution, packaging and related facilities occupied there. It has some vacant facilities and expects to build another industrial park there, partner Bob Sanches said.

“We’re right in the center of the country ... but we’re not in Chicago, so there’s less traffic,” Sanches said.

Pierce Distribution Services in Loves Park operates three facilities in Belvidere and one in Beloit. It runs the operations for clients like construction and agricultural machinery maker Gehl Co., drivetrain supplier AxleTech and military contractor Navistar.

Gehl, for example, used to have five distribution centers in North America. Pierce consolidated them into the Belvidere operation a few years ago and “from here are able to serve them better than their five did,” said Dale Timmons, vice president of sales and marketing for Pierce.

Thomas V. Bona can be reached (815) 987-1343 or tbona@rrstar.com.

Who                             Where              Size                                       When opened
Lowe’s                       Rockford           1.4 million square feet               2007
Bay Valley Foods     Rochelle            600,000 square feet                  Set for 2009
Bon-Ton Stores       Rockford            565,000 square feet                  1980,  expanded in                                                                                                                                          1984 and 1990
Staples                      Beloit, Wis.        400,000 square feet                 2006
RC2                           Rochelle           400,000 square feet                  2005
Sara Lee                   Rochelle            300,000 square feet                  2002, expanded 2007
Navistar/Pierce
Distribution              Belvidere             255,000 square feet                 2008
Navistar/Pierce
Distribution              Beloit, Wis.          135,000 square feet                 1998