International trade representatives tour Metro East region

By Bob Pieper For Chronicle Media

International trade representatives pause for photo with Southwest Illinois Trade and Investment Council (SWITIC) representatives. (Photo courtesy of SWITIC)

Trade officials representing 11 Eastern European and Asian nations toured a dozen Metro East industrial and transportation facilities, May 15-16, under a burgeoning program to bring global trade partners and foreign direct investors to Southwestern Illinois.

Up-close demonstrations of robotics-equipped warehouse-distribution centers and walking tours of an intermodal riverport were among the agenda items for “Discover Southwest Illinois,” a two-day, first-of-its-kind Metro East trade summit, hosted by the Southwest Illinois Trade and Investment Council (SWITIC).

“We’ve already received very positive feedback from our guests and from those here at home who played an important role in connecting local and regional exporters and service providers in Southwest Illinois with global partners seeking to further trade and foreign direct investment in our region,” said SWITIC Board President David Kniepkamp.

The Metro East trade tour came just a week ahead of “FreightWeekSTL” — five-day (May 21-25) conference organized by Bi-State Development’s St. Louis Regional Freightway group, to promote both importing and exporting across east central Missouri and southwestern Illinois.

Taking part in the SWITIC tour were representatives from Argentina, Belgium-Flanders, Bulgaria, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Italy, the Philippines, Spain and the Ukraine; who inspected more than a dozen Madison, Monroe and St. Clair county facilities, including:

  • The Walgreens e-Commerce Fulfillment Center – a half-million-square-foot, advanced-robotics distribution operation in Edwardsville’s Gateway Commerce Center; specifically developed to accommodate pharmaceuticals,
  • The nearby World Wide Technology development center for advanced robotics systems used in warehouse/distribution and fulfillment;
  • MidAmerica Airport’s Boeing St. Clair aircraft assembly center — which produces finished F/A-18 fighter jets — and the North Bay Produce import-expert terminal — which now moves millions of cases of fresh produce through the Mascoutah airport;
  • The Rock City Business Complex, a 6-million-square-foot, underground business park in Valmeyer; and
  • The National Corn to Ethanol Research Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; the only facility in the world concurrently conducting corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, advanced biofuels and specialized chemical research, according to the university.

Trade emissaries also toured the Sauget Industrial Park — now home to more than 20 light manufacturing, logistics, fabrication and processing tenants —adjacent to Cahokia’s St. Louis Downtown Airport, the America’s Central Port intermodal freight facility in Granite City, emerging industrial sites in Dupo, Columbia’s new 11 South business center, and Edwardsville’s Lakeview Commerce Center.

Teodora Boteva, head of the Chicago-based commercial and economic office of Bulgaria’s Consulate General, was among those expressing some optimism that Metro East could develop into an international trade hub.

The trade tour of the Metro East region included a stop at the MidAmerica Airport’s
Boeing St. Clair aircraft assembly center which produces finished F/A- 18 fighter jets. (Photo courtesy of MidAmerica)

“Illinois is the fifth-largest state exporter of goods, exporting Illinois-manufactured goods to more than 220 countries last year,” she noted.

Foreign dignitaries on the Metro East development tour were all members of the Chicago International Trade Commissioners Association.

SWITIC is a nonprofit organization established to provide local and regional exporters with the expertise and contacts to begin or expand exporting of their products globally. The group also works to facilitate foreign direct investment opportunities in the area.

Since first formed in 2015 by government leaders in Madison and St. Clair counties, SWITIC has since expanded to serve all Southwest Illinois.

“Southwest Illinois is now on the radars of 11 international trade offices,” said Silvia Torres Bowman, director of the International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, which facilitates SWITIC’s operations.

As a follow-up, SWITIC now plans a five-day “Discover Mexico,” a five-day outbound trade mission to Mexico City and surrounding industrialized areas, for Metro East business people.

That trip will be conducted in cooperation with the State of Illinois Latin America & Caribbean Office and the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Service, both based in Mexico, organizers say.

In addition to Bulgarian trade office director Boteva, foreign trade representatives taking the Metro East tour were: Xiaojie Sun, commercial officer of The Consulate General of China; Marcelo Boffi, deputy consul of the Consulate General of Argentina; Gina Jamoralin, consul general of the Consulate General of The Philippines; Camila LaTorre Sommerfeld, market research specialist of Pro Ecuador; Rodrigo Cid, representing the Trade Commission of Chile; Xiaoming Zou, consul for commercial affairs of The Consulate General of China; Gabriele Barone, deputy trade commissioner of the Italian Trade Agency; Oscar López Hoyos, international trade advisor of the Trade Commission of Spain; Piet Morisse, investment and trade commissioner of the Government of Flanders, Yevgeniy Drobot, vice-consul of the Consulate General of Ukraine; and  Lubos Matejka, foreign representative to the USA for CzechTrade.

Coordinating segments of the tour, along with Kniepkamp and Bowman, were Tim Schoenecker, interim dean of the SIUE School of Business, and Edie Koch, executive director of the Monroe County Economic Development Corporation.





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