Representatives of groups working to bring a port authority to Central Missouri visited this week with officials in St. Louis on how the Port Authority of St. Louis works.
Cole County Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle, Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher and Callaway County Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer were among those who went to St. Louis on Wednesday.
Members of Victory Enterprises/Strategic Capitol Consulting also made the trip. Victory/Strategic was awarded an economic development services contract last month to work with Cole County instead of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, effective Jan. 1. Scheperle said the Chamber of Commerce and Jefferson City representatives were invited but unable to attend.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved an application last month to create the Heartland Port Authority of Central Missouri. Jefferson City, the Cole County Commission, the Callaway County Commission and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce applied to form the authority.
Scheperle said they visited with members of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which works on economic issues for St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis.
“Currently, they lease space for businesses to park barges along the Mississippi River in St. Louis,” Scheperle said. “They don’t unload anything. It’s not a real active port. They have a tax on gaming from the local casinos that generates money for them to operate the port. It’s similar to what Boonville gets from their casino and allows them to make capital improvements.”
Commissioners also met with state Rep. Becky Ruth, R-Festus, who provided them with information about things to consider as they establish their port.
“She said we needed to find people who know about water transportation to be on your port authority board, as well those business leaders who ship their products by water,” Scheperle said. “She said we needed to focus on getting a highly aggressive director that has background on waterways and chases leads for sales.
“She also told us we needed to apply for an AIM Zone with the Department of Revenue. It targets an area for industrial type of growth. For us, that would be the Algoa area. Any new jobs created within the zone, you can recoup 50 percent of the state withholding on that job. If the state collected 7 percent, you could collect 3.5 percent of that amount. This would help fund the port authority.”
Scheperle said the biggest struggle he sees is how the Mid-Missouri port will generate funds to pay for a director and other expenses. While it wouldn’t take much to get the north side of the Missouri River in shape for receiving barges, he said, it would probably be a couple of years before the south side would be ready, due to environmental and survey work.
“I’d like to see this be self-sustaining and not be government-funded,” he said. “I still think the port is a great idea. It gets trucks off the road to save wear and tear on highways.”