Decatur, IL – Water might seem like a prerequisite for a port to many people, but in recent years, a trend in distribution has begun to benefit communities across the county: the inland port.

These dry facilities, ordinarily located along rail lines, are designed to serve the burgeoning intermodal network. In 2014, intermodal volume rose to 13.5 million containers, up from 3.1 million containers in 1980. This volume accounted for more rail revenue than any other single commodity hauled last year.

Decatur, Ill., is one of the latest communities to recognize the powerful economic opportunity in intermodal. Its Midwest Inland Port, led by the Decatur Economic Development Corporation (EDC), is catalyzing development across the region, enabling local businesses to grow because of increased connectivity.

The port traces its beginnings to the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Co. intermodal rail facility, opened in 2013. While previously the company had no way to connect the Decatur region’s three Class I rail lines, its 280-acre intermodal facility now has direct access to CN, Norfolk Southern, and CSX service.

Since the intermodal yard opened in 2013, the EDC has stepped up efforts to develop the Midwest Inland Port further, officially launching a development committee and appointing a new executive director in December 2014.

“The development of the Midwest Inland Port is a boon to Decatur businesses and the community,” said Tim Stone, chair of the EDC board. “And I cannot understate the importance of rail to the port’s success. Our rail connections allow us to ship goods efficiently and economically to markets across America and overseas.”

Rail, though just a piece of the transportation network required of an intermodal hub, is the most efficient, reliable, and cost-effective way to haul freight across long distances—and local Illinois industries have taken notice. Warehousing company Parke & Son, for example, recently decided to expand its Decatur facility based on the inland port.

“It really is the heart of opportunity for Decatur and Central Illinois,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) of the Midwest Inland Port during a tour of the facility and ADM’s intermodal yard in August. He noted that because the port can ship products all over the world, it would continue to lead to companies creating jobs in the region.

Beyond connecting Decatur businesses to customers—and the local job creation that follows—railroads support thousands of jobs across Illinois. The state’s 40 freight railroads directly employ 13,152 people. Each of these positions, in turn, supports 4.5 additional jobs across the broader economy according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.