Mar 19

Paying a visit to Springfield Underground, Missouri

One day at his desk, Bergfrost managing director Símin Pauli Sivertsen came across some information about a huge warehouse complex called Springfield Underground, owned by a family business known as the Erlen Group, of Springfield, Missouri.

As an entirely landlocked state, Missouri, situated in the Midwestern region of the USA, must be very different in many ways from a place such as the Faroe Islands, where basically everything is surrounded by the sea and, to quite an extraordinary extent, conditioned by it. So the geographical contrast between the U.S. Midwest and our tiny group of islands in the mid Northeast Atlantic Ocean could hardly be greater; add the distance between the two locations—about halfway around the world.

However, there was something about that business in Missouri that caught Mr. Sivertsen’s attention.

“I found it intriguing and felt that it could be of interest for us in some way,” Mr. Sivertsen recalled. “We made contact and were met with a friendly response, and before we knew it we’d be on our way to meet them.”

And so a delegation of three from Bergfrost—Mr. Sivertsen himself accompanied by operations manager John K. Simonsen and specialist worker Bárur Andreasen—arrived at Springfield Underground in early June, 2022. There they would be treated as special guests from afar and accompanied on a tour to see the facility and meet and greet managers and owners.

“I was stunned by the size of their underground complex and indeed the whole operation and the huge logistics,” Mr. Sivertsen said. “Just as an example, on the day we were there they happened to have about 120 million fresh eggs on their shelves, all newly arrived and destined to be shipped within the next few days, as they only have a seven-day shelf life. I’ve never seen that many eggs in one place; that amount would correspond to some 2,400 eggs per each person living in the Faroes.”

And the amount of other foods, notably cheese, for instance, is no less than legendary. But that is a discussion for another day.

“I was pleased with the experience of meeting members of the Erlen Group management team,” Mr. Sivertsen added. “We have a lot of common interests and they were impressed when we gave them a presentation of our cold store, even though our tunnel system is much smaller compared to theirs.”

‘Much to talk about’

A wide range of goods including various foods are warehoused in the Springfield Underground. The rail-served facility with origins in a limestone mine of the 1950s, has been in business for more than 50 years. The site contains almost 300,000 square meters (3.2 million sq. feet) of leasable space, spread over a number of large sections and buildings. The temperature of refrigerated buildings ranges from minus 29 to plus 13 degrees centigrade (-20F to 55F).

The facility has as many as 224 dock doors, almost 5 kilometers (3 miles) of lit roadway and about 3.8 km of rail above ground plus 1.1 km of rail below ground and no less than 11 rail-served buildings.

400 trucks visit the facility daily. Two surface trailer staging lots and 224 dock doors provide opportunities for managed access to the underground buildings. With immediate access to highways Interstate 44 and US-65 plus the BNSF Railway mainline, Springfield Underground is situated at the heart of America’s transportation corridors.

“It was fascinating to learn about their business model and their high degree of supply chain independence,” Mr. Sivertsen noted.

One Springfield Underground sister company is a food-grade public warehouse with over 283,000 cubic meters of storage space 30 meters below ground. Another one is a BNSF Premier Transload Facility with options for underground dry or cold storage locations on site. Another sister company deals with developing surface industrial parks focusing on manufacturing, warehousing, third-party logistics providers and e-commerce.

While real estate is at the core of Erlen Group business, it all started with quarrying of limestone back in 1955. One of the mining companies in the group thus serves the construction and agricultural industries in the Joplin metropolitan area with limestone products. A second mining company in the group serves the construction and agricultural industries in the Springfield metropolitan area.

“It’s quite a concept,” Mr. Sivertsen added. “First they mine the rock, then they create various stone products from it that they sell to the construction and agriculture markets, then they use the tunnels from the earlier mining excavation to create underground warehousing, and add several industrial services.”

Mr. Sivertsen said he hopes to see representatives from Erlen Group visiting the Faroes before long. “I think we have much to talk about,” he noted.