Kentucky Riverport Study To Be Released In October

Kentucky expects to have a marketing toolkit and a final report out to each of its 11 riverports next month, designed to help each one grow.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet concluded its third online riverport freight summit September 2 (also see WJ, September 6). The summits are part of the Kentucky Riverports, Highway and Rail Freight Study, which is wrapping up after close to two years of work. The summits and study were designed to gather information and to help connect economic development officials and representatives from the state’s public riverports so they can understand each other’s resources.

The resulting report provides business intelligence, including target commodities, and will help the state determine how to best invest in each one to bring more jobs to the state, developers hope.
In a final-day session titled “Statewide Strategy for Riverport Investment–Economic Development: Advancing Our State’s Riverports,” Mimi Rasor of Rasor Communications and Kevin Johns, technical lead from MetroAnalytics, talked about how riverports can use the information gained.

Rasor focused on the marketing toolkit, which includes a profile of each riverport, updated content for the Kentucky Association of Riverports website, updated website content and linkage from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet website and Cabinet for Economic Development, an outline of next steps in determining appropriate “go-to-market” strategy for each riverport and recommendations for future collateral materials.

While the toolkit contains the same types of information, it is individualized for each port, based on two rounds of interviews with executive directors as well as other information.

“Each of the riverports is at a different level of development and has different capabilities and strengths, so we can’t just write a one-size-fits-all marketing plan for all of you,” Rasor said. “So what we’re going to do with the toolkit is give each of you the steps to walk through to determine how is it best for you to go to market to promote what you offer in terms of freight transport.”

Rasor focused on the riverport profiles, which are a two-sided fact sheet with the latest information from the study. Each one includes a map highlighting specific capabilities of each port and the existing customers on-site.

“This can live online,” she said. “It can be printed, so you have a variety of uses for this, and we’ll make sure you have the ability to update that over the years as well.”

The fact sheet helps port directors by providing a commodity growth forecast for the port’s draw area, highlighting available connections to other modes of transportation and listing committed infrastructure investment plans. It also lists, in an easy-to-read format, the port facility infrastructure, including waterside capabilities, equipment, storage, warehouse, laydown space and long-term tenants.

Johns hosted a session designed to help ports determine how to use business intelligence and public and private partnerships to modernize the state’s ports and address statewide economic goals.
He noted that Kentucky has $500,000 in dedicated funding to its ports annually, although some surrounding states do provide more. Additionally, he noted that Kentucky doesn’t have a state-operated public port system, instead relying on separate public port authorities with local jurisdictions.

He asked the question, “If you wanted to successfully apply for $220 million in federal dollars from the new $17 billion ports allocation package, $8.9 billion RAISE and $3 billion EDA funds, how would you do that?”

In answering his own question, he advised pooling resources with local governments and CEOs, showing them that investing in their riverports is a viable strategy to help offset the loss of coal transportation in Kentucky. Performance-based property tax incentives and partnerships can be good strategies, he said. Additionally, he suggested partnering with universities, investors and technology experts to create an innovation hub at each port, and cultivating relationships with educators to speak frankly on curricula and promote youth programs both to help decrease poverty and to develop a future workforce.

When possible, he said, ports should submit grant applications jointly with partners, whether it is other riverports within the state, allies in other states or with a community college.
In a closing session, Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray addressed participants.

“The more I have learned, the more respect I have for everything that’s been done,” he said of the study.

He noted that Kentucky has just over 1,000 miles of commercially active waterways with seven active riverports and four developing ones. Additionally, 10 interstates, 10 state parkways, 19 freight railroads operating more than 2,600 miles of rail and five commercial airports operate within the state, along with United States hubs for UPS, DHL and soon to be Amazon Prime Air.

Gray said the study is important because it will take all these modes of transportation working together to make a connected and resilient network.

“Our state, our communities and our industries require and need a multimodal transportation network that includes our riverports,” he said. “This study is elevating the understanding the economic role that each of the public ports and over 150 private river terminals play in communities across Kentucky. Our ports provide key waterway connections to and from our communities, to other states and to domestic trading partners, to the Great Lakes and to the Gulf of Mexico and international trade lanes. So, while we’re here to focus on future needs for improvements to our riverport network, we know the connections across all modes of transportation are critical to our success, and we thank each of you for helping us gain insights to help prioritize infrastructure investments and best serve the future freight needs of businesses and industries throughout the state.”