Why Ford's suppliers are going underground (literally)

Why Ford suppliers are going underground (literally)

In the shadow of a Ford plant, auto suppliers toil 100 feet down in a former Kansas City limestone mine.

I’ve been to a lot of unusual places in my long career as a journalist, but SubTropolis in Kansas City takes the cake. It’s the world’s largest underground storage facility, 6 million square feet 80 to 150 down in a former limestone mine. The limestone is 270 million years old, but the use of these caves for climate-controlled businesses only dates to 1964.

SubTropolis, owned by the wealthy Hunt family, is like an underground city, with the major benefit in hot-summer, cold-winter Kansas City of being a steady 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. No wonder the place gets a 100 percent Energy Star rating — no heating or air conditioning necessary! The U.S. Post Office stores $6 billion in stamps down here, and LightEdge Solutions maintains a naturally cooled $58 million data center.

I’m down in SubTropolis for Automotive Alley, the newest addition. In 2011, Ford announced a $1.1 billion expansion of its Claycomo assembly plant, which makes the F-150 truck (America’s bestselling vehicle) and the Transit van. SubTropolis borders Ford’s property, so what better location for Ford suppliers?

On the surface here, Ford maintains a 29-acre logistics facility where it stages 1,800 Transits, 80 percent of which get shipped by rail from here. But a lot of them go underground, where three companies, Adrian Steel, Knapheide and Ground Effects, have only recently begun “upfitting” them for customers like Comcast, Duke Energy, Western Pest Control, Geek Squad and Halliburton.

First stop: Canada-based Ground Effects, where plant manager April Adams shows me rows of F-150s that are having bed liners sprayed in (a $475 factory option). Across the way, Transits are getting cargo spray floors, Kicker subwoofers and remote starts. The whole spraying thing gets me concerned about ventilation down here, but President and CEO Ora Reynolds and VP Mike Bell assure me that the place is naturally air conditioned through 17 openings. “We have the EPA down here,” Bell says. “Do you think they’d allow us to have bad air quality?” Go to MNN.com for more…

Doing business 100 feet underground - CNNMoney.com

Doing business 100 feet underground

Here’s a novel way to slash your business expenses in half: Relocate 100 feet underground.
In the Midwest, many businesses have done just that.

In states like Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, there’s a growing number of firms doing business in subterranean spaces that were once mines. Starting in the 1960s, these spaces were rehabilitated for commercial use.

SubTropolis, in Kansas City, Mo., is a well-known example.

The underground business complex was an active limestone mine in the 1940s, owned by real estate firm Hunt Midwest. As mining started to taper off, it left a vast network of empty caves.

“In the 1960s came the ‘a-ha!’ moment,” said Ora Reynolds, president and CEO of Hunt Midwest. “These spaces could be reused.”

Since then, Hunt Midwest has gradually transformed the defunct spaces.

“Six million square feet of it is ready, and we have room to build out another 8 million square feet based on demand,” said Dick Ringer, SubTropolis’ general manager.

Today, 1,600 people to work at one of the 52 businesses that lease space in SubTropolis’ space, including tech and manufacturing firms, consumer products companies and auto firms.

“Ford at one time used to store its Mavericks here,” said Reynolds. And the U.S. Postal Service currently stores $2 billion worth of stamps in SubTropolis.

“The constant temperature and humidity [it’s 68 to 72 degrees year-round] are ideal for storing stamps and other products,” she said.

Other advantages: There’s underground parking. Construction costs are low since there’s already a natural roof in place — all they need to build are walls.

“We’re a ‘green’ workspace since we’re conserving natural resources,” Ringer said. “And by being deep underground, we’re a pretty secure location for businesses.”

Employees enter SubTropolis through one of 19 entrances that accommodate cars and trucks. This also facilitates cross-ventillation of natural air, although tenants can also add air conditioning and dehumidifiers. Go to CNNMoney.com for more…