For about 18 months the St. Louis region has been sprinting to catch up to fast-moving freight operations in the rest of the nation. Mary Lamie, the former highway engineer in charge of playing catch-up, said a lot of distance was covered in that short time thanks to the great story the region has to tell, but she recently realized just how big the gap was.
The St. Louis Regional Freightway that she directs just linked up with the Port of New Orleans to share information and build business connections. It started with an invitation to visit here and taking the New Orleans port chief to a St. Louis Cardinals game.
Lamie said her new New Orleans friends said a similar get-together thrown by the Memphis port folks would be a great place to make more connections. Then she learned Memphis has been hosting their shindig for 65 years and that it draws 900 freight transportation professionals.
“That thud was my head hitting the table when I realized how far behind we were,” she said.
Lamie’s job is to spread the word that St. Louis has major waterways and ports, connects six top rail companies, is at the nexus of major interstates and has two major airports ready for more air cargo. She also talks about the work force, infrastructure and available land.
But what she is hearing back is that St. Louis’ central location makes it an easy, logical sell. The only trouble has been that no one was doing the selling, no was was at the table, no one was available to answer questions for freight forwarders, intermodal operators and site selectors.
Now that the region is working together on freight — both parties, both sides of the river, both public and private sectors — all those assets should come together to put the wind at our backs. The region on many fronts could thrive by overcoming parochialism and politics.
Transportation has been this area’s natural focus since prehistoric days. The federal government understood that when it based its movement of military goods and people here. Remembering the logic of centering logistics in the St. Louis region will build jobs and economic development well into the future.