Potential Impacts

High cube and automated warehouses enable freight and distribution businesses to build massive warehouses that are as much as eight times the height of other warehouses in the region. By allowing companies to build higher, these automated structures need less physical land to develop, with their intricate racking systems moving both products and the trucks that deliver to them through the site more quickly. Less land being developed is potentially a positive outcome, leading to reduced pressure on farmland and open space. Increased efficiency within the warehousing industry is also likely to lead to increased economic productivity.

This emerging land use also has the potential for tremendous adverse impacts on the local and surrounding communities. Their high-tech automation means fewer jobs are created at the facility. Their height means drastic changes to landscapes in communities that have no other structures higher than three or four stories. These communities often do not have the emergency management service infrastructure necessary to serve structures of this scale, posing a threat to the public health, safety and welfare. While the efficiency of these facilities likely increases freight trips in and out of the site, the real impacts on traffic, and on the road and bridge infrastructure are not fully known because examples are not yet available to accurately assess trip generation. These factors will require proactive measures by municipal governments. Many of the impacts and recommendations detailed in this document could also apply to traditional warehouses and other industrial uses.

Locally, these vertical structures are being proposed for refrigerated and frozen storage and computer and electronics warehousing because their height allows them to be more energy efficient, reduce labor and product damage costs, and increase order accuracy and customer service. This design is also being proposed nationally and internationally for other types of warehousing, including dry goods and retail commodities.

Simultaneously with the development of new high cube warehouse facilities, traditional existing warehouses are redeveloping and retrofitting for automation as well. In these cases, the density of goods stored increases, potential for freight vehicle trips grows and the job roles for employees shift and decline.

With this increase in high cube warehousing and deployment of automated storage and retrieval systems, the Lehigh Valley’s industrial economy has entered into its second phase of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

New construction of high cube and automated warehouses utilize the tall, intricate racking system for two purposes. The racks increase the efficiency of goods moving into and out of the warehouses, and serve as the building’s support structure, before being wrapped in a metal covering that acts as the building’s exterior walls. The racking system encompasses the entirety of the building’s height.  The completed building photo below offers a glimpse of comparison to the height of a traditional warehouse. Traditional warehouses, found broadly throughout the Lehigh Valley, typically don’t exceed 50 feet, but the bottom photo shows how the 130-foot-tall building dwarfs the tractor-trailers at the first-floor bays.

The 130-foot-tall Americold Automated Storage and Retrieval System under construction in Rochelle, Illinois (above) and completed (below). Photos courtesy of Griffco Design/Build, Inc.