Kurt Bizenberger said past generations of farmers in his family never imagined selling their dairy products overseas. But a St. Clair County plan to connect Midwest businesses with Chinese customers could bring yogurt produced at Windcrest Dairy Farms in Trenton to Ningbo, China.
Bizenberger said his grandparents and great-grandparents would have been surprised to learn the farm was producing yogurt -- much less looking to ship it to Chinese customers.
"Either one would have surprised the hell out of them," Bizenberger said. "It's overwhelming thinking back 60 or 70 years when it was pretty well local sales to the community. Now we're talking about going to China."
In order for yogurt produced from cows in the metro-east to make it unto dinner tables in China, county and business leaders need to be successful in marketing Midwestern goods to Chinese businesses during overseas trips.
The trips are part of the county's ongoing effort to make MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah an international trade hub with its Chinese partner Ningbo Lishe International Airport. Ningbo airport is close to completing a refrigerated warehouse that would allow perishable food, such as fruit or seafood from the Midwest, to reach more than 250 million Chinese customers, according to MidAmerica Director Tim Cantwell.
Cantwell said MidAmerica is a "natural match" because the buying power of Chinese customers has increased and its government is pushing for increased availability of fresh food. For example, Windcrest's yogurt could hit markets in China only two days after milk used in its production was harvested from cows in Trenton.
It would be a strange full circle for Windcrest farms should its yogurt begin being sold in China. The farm was displaced in 1993 with the construction of MidAmerica.
The farm relocated to rural Trenton and began making yogurt in 2011. Bizenberger co-owns the farm with Steve Eickmeyer.
Windcrest sells its yogurt at 120 locations in the St. Louis region along with other products at a store on the farm in Trenton.
County consultant Larry Taylor said he has "high hopes" for Windcrest to find Chinese customers, but noted the trade deal and others remain a "work in progress."
County leaders believe MidAmerica can serve as hub to shorten international freight service between China and Central and South America.
Currently, Chinese goods are flown into Anchorage, Alaska, or other northern U.S. sites. Trucks ship the cargo into southern parts of the U.S., which can take up to 72 hours, before it is flown south in smaller planes to Central and South America.
MidAmerica's central location in the U.S. could drastically reduce the shipping time of goods to such countries, Cantwell said.
Freight service is part of the county's multi-pronged approach to make MidAmerica profitable.
County leaders hope to expand passenger service at MidAmerica and recently hired a consulting firm to help convince Allegiant Air to add routes from the airport. MidAmerica also hosts two companies: North Bay Produce and the Boeing Co.
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.