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St. Louis, gateway to the East?

Marketplace Staff Dec 25, 2009

St. Louis, gateway to the East?

Marketplace Staff Dec 25, 2009


BILL RADKE: The St. Louis airport is looking beyond Christmas
to the future. Airport officials are trying to become a hub for goods coming from China.

City and state leaders have put a billion dollars into the plan, and if it pans out, it could give the city something it hasn’t had in decades — a stake in the global economy.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Adam Allington reports.

ADAM ALLINGTON: St. Louis’ Lambert Airport opened a new runway in 2006. Unfortunately, the airport failed to predict huge cutbacks by its main carrier, American Airlines.

The upshot? A $1.1 billion slab of concrete that’s only in use 15 percent of the time. That runway is the ace in the hole regional business leaders are hoping will persuade Chinese exporters to route goods through St. Louis instead of, say, Chicago or Atlanta.

MIKE JONES: I think it would be a game changer for St. Louis. It would put us back in global commerce in a big way.

Mike Jones is Chairman of a group of local politicians and business leaders trying to shepherd the deal. Central to their pitch, he says, is the fact that during a recession everyone is looking to cut shipping costs, and St. Louis sits smack in the middle of the country.

JONES: And as people start to figure out where they’re going to go next as the economy grows, this is our opportunity to have those conversations.

Bringing products in, however, is only one part of the equation. Any planes landing in St. Louis need to be filled with goods heading back to China.

Rex Ricketts of the Center for Beef Excellence says there are two Midwest products the Chinese really want.

REX RICKETTS: Pork, and the other is beef. And that’s really good news for Missouri.

In an effort to seal the deal, St. Louis has hired the air-freight equivalent of a rock star. Guenter Rohrmann is a former executive at DHL and leading freight expert.

Rohrmann is getting close to a million dollars to negotiate with the Chinese. If he’s successful, it could be the biggest boost for the region since they built a bridge over the Mississippi.

I’m Adam Allington for Marketplace.

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