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America’s Central Port and St. Louis’ freight district: Economic boons you didn’t realize were there

America's Central Port

The forecast for 2016 in Madison County and the St. Louis region’s newly-created freight district includes 9,600 feet of rail track, 1 million cubic yards of dirt and 8,000 cubic yards of concrete — and the sound of barge horns. The South Harbor at America’s Central Port was recently christened and is set to open in 2016 — with an expected increase in commodities flow by 25 percent.

That’s part of an effort by business leaders in the St. Louis metropolitan area to meet the needs or projections that freight shipments across the U.S. will increase 60 percent over the next 25 years … and solidify St. Louis as a hub for such transactions. A previous study on the region’s strengths and weaknesses showed that the region had a lot of growth potential in attracting freight flow through the area.

On Wednesday, three guests joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss the South Harbor project, the St. Louis freight district and what economic benefit projects surrounding it bring to the region:

  • Dennis Wilmsmeyer, Executive Director, America’s Central Port, immediate past president of the World Trade Center St. Louis
  • Mark Harms, Chair, Leadership Council’s Southwestern Illinois Transportation Enhancement (SITE) committee 
  • Mary Lamie, Executive Director, Regional Freight District

Recent investment at America’s Central Port with the South Harbor port and the creation of the St. Louis freight district are two moves meant to position the St. Louis region as the “freight capital of the world,” according to Wilmsmeyer.
“There’s a lot of investment going on right now in the river system, rail lines and other transportation infrastructure investment,” he continued. “The freight district itself is the biggest key. Setting up this new freight district and bringing it to the St. Louis area — no one else in the country is doing that right now.”

The district encompasses eight counties — five in Missouri and three in Illinois and is administered under the umbrella of the Bi-State Development Agency/Metro.

Mark Harms, Dennis Wilmsmeyer, and Mary Lamie.

America’s Central Port, one of the busiest parts of that freight district owns and operates 1.7 million square feet of warehouse space, 70,000 sq. ft. of office space and 150 apartments and generates an annual economic impact of $282 million on the local economy. That’s in addition to the new South Harbor port. Wilmsmeyer estimates that, with the addition of the South Harbor at America’s Central Port, another two to three million tons of product will be able to be moved by barge and rail.

“For the St. Louis region, we feel like we’re in an ideal location for the entire freight industry,” said Lamie. “That’s thanks in part to our key strengths. We’ve got six class one railroads, we’ve got a great interstate system, we’ve got the entire barge industry and we’re strategically located on the Mississippi River. We want to do a better job of marketing those assets not only to our region but the entire nation and making sure they know what we have to offer in the freight perspective.”

Harms said that concentrating on improving the movement of freight brings jobs.

“We have the ability to improve our warehousing and distribution, a strong component of our local economy,” he continued. “We’re going to see more of those throughout the Midwest. What we hope to do is to make our area more attractive to outside investors that would look to positioning their industries here. Not only looking at warehousing and distribution but there’s great potential for increasing our manufacturing work base here. We can increase value-add by taking some of the products coming through and enhancing those before they move about the country.”

"Freight touches everyone. Every product that you receive, every product that you buy got there somehow."

What’s happening at America’s Central Port and other components of the freight industries included in the freight district mostly flies under the radar for those not directly involved with it. That shouldn’t be the case, according to Wilmsmeyer. 

“Freight touches everyone,” Wilmsmeyer said. “More so today, with e-commerce and online sales. Every product that you receive, every product that you buy got there somehow. And, chances are, it got there by multiple modes of transportation. When you look at products coming from China, or overseas or anywhere, it is coming by ocean freight or air, touching the ground by rail or barge or truck transportation to get to its final destination.”

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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