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Report Examines Economic Impact Of Missouri’s Public Ports

Public ports in Missouri support 290,000 jobs adding up to $15.7 billion in annual income, according to a report released earlier this year by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). The study was the subject of a panel discussion at the 2018 Inland Marine Expo held last month in St. Louis.

Bryan Ross, waterways and freight manager for MoDOT, presented highlights of the report, along with Paula Dowell, principal and director of Cambridge Systemantics Inc., who performed the study with Hanson Professional Services.

Missouri has 1,050 miles of navigable waterways, including the Mississippi River, which forms the eastern border of the the state, and the Missouri River, which bisects the state and then continues north along the western border. The state has 12 public ports, all but three of them on the Mississippi River.

Those ports moved a total of nearly 4 million tons of freight in 2016, valued at over $12 billion.

Essentially, ports support a third of the state’s economy, giving rise to more than $2.4 billion in state and local revenue, Dowell said.

But it’s the jobs picture that state legislators are most interested in, Ross said, and that’s one of the reasons MoDOT commissioned the study. Since the state doesn’t have a dedicated funding stream for port capital improvement projects, Ross and department officials have to go to the Legislature each year to ask for money.

“The question that is always asked is, ‘When we invest this taxpayer money into the ports, what are we as a state getting out of it? Where are the jobs? What is happening with our ports that make them important enough for us to give funding to?’” he said.

“We’ve had some data, but we didn’t really have the depth of data that is going to help us in the long term with the bigger picture,” Ross said.

According to the study, inland marine transportation and transportation support activities directly employ 1,070 people with an average annual impact of $69.4 million. But, as anyone familiar with the economics of cargo transportation knows, that’s only a small part of the picture. Industries that directly rely on the state’s ports—called “port-dependent industries” in the study—support 110,000 jobs and $4.7 billion in annual income. “Port-benefitted industries” support an additional 97,500 jobs and an additional $5 billion in annual income.

Counting all of the direct and indirect impacts, including spending and respending by direct and indirect employees, ports have a total economic impact of more than $100 billion in economic activity, the study found.

For Ross, the study results were a big help in his annual trek to the Missouri Legislature. He joined MoDOT in 2014, and for his first three years on the job, his department was able to get about $3 million from the state for port capital improvement projects. That’s enough for grants to a few ports to help buy heavy equipment or fund paving projects, he said. In FY 2107, the funding increased to $4 million, but in FY 2018, legislators cut the funding to $1.5 million.

But this year, Ross went to the budget hearings armed with the new study, and the state House and Senate responded with an appropriation of $7.6 billion.

The report contained some surprises, Ross said. For example, even though the city of Springfield, Mo., is more than 100 miles from the closest navigable river, it actually has a relatively heavy concentration of industries that depend on river ports, he said.

Dowell noted that the 4 million tons of freight moved annually on the rivers is the equivalent of about 100,000 trucks.

“From a public perspective, not only is the freight and employment a benefit, but this is also important to the DOT because this is taking trucks, often with very heavy materials, off of the highway system. So there are some spillover benefits to those who use the highway as well from having a port system here,” she said.

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