A plan has been unleashed that will cost $480 million to entice the Asian market to set up shop around Lambert International Airport. This expansive plan includes developing the former Carrollton subdivision, the McKee development to the east, and other locations including Fenton and St. Charles for air shipment purposes.
From the STL Today article, Neglected sites seen as trade catalyst(3/17/11)
Richard C.D. Fleming, president of the RCGA, was away on business but sent a letter calling the air cargo hub “The Big Idea” that could transform the region.
Fleming said he was encouraged by the recent decision by the freight affiliate of China Eastern to send several cargo flights to Lambert each week, but that’s not enough. Missouri must take “our state and region back to our roots,” using geographic advantage and multiple modes of transportation to fulfill its potential as a center of commerce.
Schmitt said the air cargo business was “ripe for the taking” because of congestion in Chicago, where it is now concentrated.
We have to recognize the fact that half a billion dollars plus tax credits to lure an international industry that has not yet begun any meaningful participation in the St. Louis region is a large gamble. If this plan truly has the potential to become a viable, long-term hub, then perhaps this will be lucrative for the region in terms of job creation and economic stability. However, without any real key industry players from overseas promising to use St. Louis as their primary port, we may be again left with a large development with little use. I believe the region has already experienced the pain and repercussions from a project which millions were lost on a gamble for a major transportation hub. Yes I am referring to Lambert’s newest runway, the reason this blog exists. It will be interesting to see if this plan will work and the runway will prove to be useful after all. Personally, I would like to see less Asian products and more local manufacturers hiring skilled workers and building lasting products here at home. Realistically, I see that local production is becoming a marginalized institution as our nation thirsts for cheap products. If this is truly the way of life in our country from now on, then perhaps a cargo hub would be good for the region. Right?
On a more worrisome note, it has been acknowledged that Chicago is already handling a large volume of air cargo. Sea ports have long taken in a large volume of shipped goods, and the containerization of the U.S. trucking and rail systems to streamline shipping of international products have also made trans-continental transportation easier. Air shipment of goods does further diversify transportation methods, but is still much more costly than ground and sea travel. I am speculating here, but it seems that the infrastructure for bringing in Asian goods has already been established and by now is possibly too saturated to necessitate any additional development.
Mr. Fleming’s words are encouraging, but somewhat inaccurate. St. Louis’ unique geography, the confluence of two major rivers, were historically important to shape the city’s beginnings as a riverboat and barge hub. Yet, river transportation is limited to the regions which they flow through and became quickly outdated with advances in rail, car, and later, air transportation methods. Barging is still important and utilized, but due to its obvious geographical limitations, cannot become a major, widespread transportation industry. Therefore, any idea of a geographical advantage can only be cited if Mr. Fleming is referring to the large, empty spaces that exist in the region due to dead industries and short-sighted plans (the w-1w runway project). To that, we have to question why those industries faded in the first place.
Perhaps the very people that Mr. Fleming is hoping to entice have the answers to those questions.
More on the issue of the Chinese air cargo hub in Bridgeton can be found here in the full article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s STL Today website.