Friend of the Port–The Morris Company


The Morris Companies, founded in 1971 by Joseph D. and Robert Morris bills itself as a full-service development organization. It offers clients assistance with: site selection; guides them through the necessary steps for local, municipal, county, state or federal construction approvals; environmental and transportation planning; architectural and engineering design; and, all phases of construction, building management and postoccupancy follow-up.

PortViews asked Joe Morris about issues facing the business, and in the process, learned about how its past influences its future.

The Morris brothers adhere to the philosophy of their grandmother, Sarah Morris. She believed that what a business does tomorrow is what counts. With that as her mantra, she built a successful demolition and lumber business at the dawn of the 20th century as she raised four children without a husband. “What you have done in the past, its only use is to show that you have a track record,” says Morris. Her words stand the brothers well. In New Jersey, recent industrial warehouse projects include Allied Office Supply and Harvé Bernard (361,000 square feet) Dr. Leonard’s Health Care (850,000 square feet), Cosmetic Essence, Inc. (845,000 square feet) and (374,000 square feet). Other projects include Canon USA Northeast Regional Headquarters (420,000 square feet), Wakefern Food Corp. (735,000 square feet), Barnes & Noble’s East Coast Regional Distribution facility (350,000 square feet) and Guest Supply (225,000 square feet). In July alone, Best Buy and US Foods took possession at the Amboy Corporate Park in Amboy, N.J. of 500,000 square feet and 450,000 square feet respectively.

Joe Morris calls the massive warehouses he designs and builds for, then leases to clients, “port field boxes.” They’re where clients break down container loads and send cargo on its way to consumers. “The quicker you can get them out of the port, the less pressure on the port,” says Morris. “The state that has the best facilities to back up the port will attract the most shipping.”

What’s real estate near the Port like right now?

We’re having a downturn like everyone else. I’ve seen the other ports be more aggressive. You have to be aggressive; you have to show people that this is the best place to do business. There’s too much negativity out there about New Jersey. The word has to get out, but you can’t talk anymore, you’ve got to do. You have to prove to people that you can do what they’re asking you to do. These clients can choose other places to go. I want them to come here. We have to turn that negativity around.

"The state that has the best facilities to back up the port will attract the most shipping…"

(To that end, Morris tells of one client with distribution centers throughout the United States. “I was delighted to hear that the lowest shrinkage rate (theft) is in New Jersey. They have virtually no shrinkage here. It’s virtually the same system in all our buildings. It’s one of the benefits of being here. We have an honest workforce.)

What’s in the pipeline?

Currently we have 400,000, 500,000 and 600,000-square foot sites under construction. Beginning next year, we will start construction on 350,000 square feet in Newark, NJ. There are permits pending on an additional 10 to 11 million square feet.

How do you make your business successful?

I deal with about 350 corporations a year New Jersey and they know their stuff. They’re willing to share information, and we listen. We understand their needs. We want to do their second and third building. I’ve built about six or seven buildings, a couple million feet, on a handshake.

"The closer you are, the fewer pieces of equipment you need, and the fewer drivers you need…"

What is an advantage the Port offers for your clients?

You have more bodies in northern New Jersey, workers with better quality and more skills. There’s a range of labor, from highlevel executives to “pick and pack” staff. It gives people the opportunity to climb the ladder of success as they work in the same building. Years ago, in one company, a man who started as assistant loading dock foreman, wound up as a partner. People can still see these opportunities today.

How does the Port’s location help your clients?

They’re closer to the markets they’re delivering to. They must deliver on time, and it’s easier when they have to go shorter distances. The closer you are, the fewer pieces of equipment you need, and the fewer drivers you need. It’s much more efficient, and with the price of fuel, it helps mitigate costs. And all the sites up north (between exits 10 to 16 on the New Jersey Turnpike) have rail, truck, and in some cases, waterfront, access.

What could the Port do better?

The Port is the largest revenue generator in the state of New Jersey. It creates over 200,000 jobs. The port is the heart that pumps blood into the region. People have to understand how important the port is, and that includes legislators who need to view the infrastructure without state boundaries but rather as a regional benefit. The port needs to do more to make sure that both the elected officials and the general public is more aware of its importance. It’s also important to maintain strong, public-private partnerships. You need the skills sets from both sides to make it through the complexity that exists today in economic development.