Networking to build our net worth as a nexus

The South Harbor project at America's Central Port
The South Harbor project at America's Central Port dholtmann@bnd.com

When the Base Realignment and Closure Commission lowered the boom on Granite City and closed the U.S. Army Melvin Price Support Center in 2002, there was a lot of worry reminiscent of today’s worry with the steel mill idled. Yet things improved, thanks in large part to the basic truth of this area’s economy: We’re in the middle.

The rivers, the rails, the highways, the flight paths, the pipelines and the cables all cross through this area. That is a powerful foundation for an economy, and is why America’s Central Port is growing without massive infusions of tax dollars and even as the economy lags. A 100,000-square-foot warehouse is under construction and a $50 million second port facility just loaded its first barge.

The story of the port and this region’s potential for freight is being spread by our region’s best example of cooperation, Bi-State Development Agency and their new St. Louis Area Freightway. They are marketing the possibilities and making what is apparent to anyone who lives here known to those who don’t: We are within a day’s drive of most American markets.

There is land available here for warehousing, distributing and manufacturing. That ground is connected to whatever market you may want to access — whether that be the Port of New Orleans or Chicago or Guangzhou.

Transportation and distribution now accounts for 5,000 jobs that weren’t here a decade ago, and some see the potential for that number to double in the next decade.

Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois Chairman Mike Riley Sr. recently made some of these points about our firm foundation, but also advocated working to help U.S. Steel and the 2,000 workers from its Granite City Works.

The steel mill’s woes are linked to low oil prices killing demand in the oil fields where much of its rolled steel is used. The plant is modern and its steel can be marketed for other uses, but a large part of the solution will be when oil prices again rise.

Yet when that happens Riley points out that foreign steel dumping will remain a problem. Pushing our federal lawmakers now to push federal regulators to enforce strong anti-dumping trade laws against foreign products is another important part of keeping the steel mill busy.

This area offers a strong base, and from that base we can follow many paths that will grow this economy to withstand the next trade war or oil glut.