St. Louis Global Trade Plan builds on Granite City port efforts

By Bob Pieper For Chronicle Media
Granite City port is an integral part of the overall the St. Louis Global Cities Initiative. The plan calls for making the port a multimodal freight hub. (Photo courtesy America’s Central Port organization)

Granite City port is an integral part of the overall the St. Louis Global Cities Initiative. The plan calls for making the port a multimodal freight hub. (Photo courtesy America’s Central Port organization)

As Panamanian officials last week celebrated the opening of the expanded Panama Canal – designed to facilitate mega-freighter traffic between the U.S. and Asia – top St. Louis area business and political leaders moved into the second phase of a drive to position the Gateway region for a new era in international trade.

The St. Louis Global Cities Initiative builds on efforts to establish the America’s Central Port complex in Granite City as a major inland multimodal freight hub.

Area leaders gathered at Washington University in St. Louis last week to mark completion of the first phase of the two-part initiative: development of the new Metro St. Louis Export Plan. The event also marked the start of phase two, which will be centered on attracting new international investment to the region.

The East-West Gateway Council of Government (EWCOG), during its June 29 meeting, was briefed on completion of the new Metro St. Louis Export Plan and unanimously endorsed the establishing of a foreign investment representative for the region. The EWCOG is the federally designated regional planning body for the greater St. Louis area.

The St. Louis Global Cities Initiative is administered by the World Trade Center St. Louis, a division of St. Louis County Economic Council, on behalf of a broad-based group of business and political interests, according to Timothy J. Nowak, the center’s executive director.

Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port, led development of the new Metro St. Louis Export Plan over the past year, with input from more than 50 sources, including the influential regional business council Civic Progress, the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the Bi-State Development Agency.

The effort is supported by a range of Metro-East development organizations including the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, the Chamber of Commerce of Southwestern Madison County, Illinois SBDC International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Madison County Community Development, and the Southwestern Illinois Trade & Investment Council.

Silvia Torres, director of the SIUE International Trade Center, has been a leader in developing the new St. Louis area export plan.

Executive Director World Trade Center Developed over the past year as part of the regional planning commission’s St. Louis Global Cities Initiative, the new trade plan is designed to “position St. Louis for high quality growth and competitiveness in the 21st century economy,” according to a staff report.

St. Louis is one of 28 U.S. cities participating in the Global Cities Initiative, a five-year joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, launched in 2011, to help business and civic leaders develop metropolitan economies by strengthening international connections and competitiveness.  St. Louis, in January 2015, became one of the final eight cities accepted into the program.

Metro-East Leaders believe the global trade initiative will increase exporting of Southwestern Illinois agricultural commodities as well facilitate development of Edwardsville’s burgeoning warehousing and distribution district.

They also hope it will facilitate development of new manufacturing industry.

In conjunction with the Metro St. Louis Export Plan, the World Trade Center St. Louis last week also announced a new $125,000 grant program for start-ups and existing small-to-mid-sized businesses with potentially exportable products. Businesses in a 16-county area around St. Louis are eligible. Details of the grant program are available on the center’s website (

According to the Brookings Institution’s 2015 Export Monitor, the St. Louis region currently exports goods and services estimated at $16.2 billion, supporting an estimated total of 94,900 direct and indirect jobs.

Generally ranked around the 20th largest market in the nation by population, the St. Louis area is 22nd by value of exports. However, St. Louis area exporting is growing at a rate of just 1.1 percent annually, according to Brookings data, raking the area 73rd in the nation.

St. Louis County accounts for $6.9 billion of the region’s exports, with St. Louis City representing $2.6 billion.  However, Madison County ranks a respectable third in the region with $2.1 billion. Annual export totals for other St. Louis area counties: St. Charles County, $1.8 billion; St. Clair County,  $884 million; Franklin County, $758 million; Jefferson County,  $361 million; Warren County, $145 million; Lincoln County, $126 million; Clinton County, $125 million; Macoupin County, $117 million; Bond County, $90 million;  Monroe County, $79 million; and Jersey County, $49 million.