Saturday, April 4, 2009

Queensgate: An Opportunity Too Big To Pass Up

Earlier this week, a small story ran in the Enquirer about an issue I believe has huge economic implications, regionally and long-term.

Unfortunately, it has only been treated as a local neighborhood issue, when I believe it instead represents a unifying and ENORMOUS economic opportunity for the City, County, region and southern Ohio. It's an issue all citizens should know about, and all citizens should weigh in on. And the time to weigh in is now.

I wrote about the general issue of freight infrastructure several weeks back. Simply stated, improving our ability to ship goods by river and rail in and out of our region is one of the keys to competing effectively in the 21st century. Jobs and businesses will be located in places that have easy and low cost global access. And using rail and river provides a far cheaper, far greener approach than trucks on roads.

And, because we happen to be 1) located on a river that doesn't freeze, 2) tied to a number of rail lines, and 3) within 450-500 miles of half of the country's manufacturing and population, our region is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the rapidly growing demand for rail and river transportation options--particularly as the coastal ports are already at or above capacity, and busiensses want to be able to ship products across the world.

The Queensgate Port Opportunity

This means we need to do all we can to develop intermodal, river-rail connections where they make sense. For a region which is ideally positioned to take advantage of this 21st century opportunity, we are woefully underserved when it comes to such connections, and failing to take advantage of a great strategic strength.

But we have an opportunity to change that.

It is a project called Queensgate Terminals—an old barge and mooring site that recently housed cement mixing operations. As its name suggests, the site is located along the Queensgate bank of the river in an area that is already intensely industrial/warehouse.

Several years ago, a private entity (Queensgate Terminals) leased the site, with a plan to develop this location into a compact and modern port terminal operation. Once developed, the terminal will connect to a rail line that takes goods directly to a large distribution center in Fayette County, near Wilmington, Ohio. So goods would be shipped from all over the world, up the Ohio River (via the Port of New Orleans), to the Cincinnati port, hoisted onto a railcar at Queensgate, then transported over rail to the Fayette County distribution center, and then shipped across the entire midwest and heartland of the country. And goods could be shipped out to the world from the Midwest via the same route.

And all along the way, jobs would be created. Jobs at the port. Jobs on the rail line. And many jobs at the distribution center (Wilmington, needless to say, badly needs those jobs).

But more fundamentally, the jobs will come long-term because this infrastructure will provide the global, green and cost-effective access to the global stream of commerce that all manufacturers are looking for to be competitive. They want to locate in places where such access exists.

Two other benefits:

1) for each container that flows through the port, a local "tariff" will be collected that will be invested back into the local communities nearby--Lower Price Hill, East Price Hill, etc. These revenues will provide for revitalization and other investments that would otherwise never be made in these communities, at this scale, from the City's general fund (which must be divided among 52 neighborhodos).

2) the plan is to develop the port to be "green"--utilizing solar power, accompanied by green/trees, and using modern technology to keep its operations far quieter and less intense in its use of energy than older facilities.

(A good summary of the project and its benefits can be found here.)

Usually, the big question now would be: sounds great--but who's gonna pay for it?

Not us. Seeing this as a 21st century opportunity, the private sector is willing to shoulder much of the risk of this endeavor. And because of the enormous job implications for Southwest Ohio, the state has signaled interest in also supporting the development of this key 21st century infrastructure, using state and federal funds. The City and County don’t have to pay a dime—we only receive new revenues from the increased economic activity.

And of course, the other big question: sounds great, but there's got to be a zoning problem?

Nope. The zoning of the site already allows for barge and train loading and unloading and bulk material storage, handling, and distribution.

Overall, then, this is an enormous win for the City, County, region and state, and the obstacles to moving forward would seem comparatively low.

So what's the problem, if it's not money or zoning?

Stay tuned for part II.

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