Mike Jones, senior policy advisor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley andchairman of the Midwest China Hub Commission (MCHC), said there was no reason to come toSt. Louis in the 19th Century.
Until the Eads Bridge was built in 1874 and opened commerce to the eastern half of the UnitedStates with Missouri and beyond. And the same holds true for increasing commerce betweenChina and St. Louis, he said.
Implementing a China Hub, or the "Big Idea," a phrase coined by the Chinese, for import andexport between the two countries will only happen when St. Louis establishes itself as an air hubfor the transfer of goods.
A seminar Wednesday (02/17/2010) on the "Big Idea" drew business leaders from across the region to St.Louis University's School of Business and Economics to hear some of the players extol thevirtues of the China Hub effort.
The MCHC's aim is to turn the Midwest in general, and St. Louis in particular, into China'sprimary gateway to the Midwest through "dedicated cargo flights" connecting St. Louis, Chinaand Shanghai.
Among its members are Richard Fleming, CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and GrowthAssociation (RCGA), Daniel Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce andIndustry, and St. Louis County Economic Council CEO Denny Coleman.
Jones said the "Big Idea" began in 2007 when developer Paul McKee was trying to find a way todevelop the NorthPark industrial area near Lambert St. Louis International Airport. That efforteventually evolved into a trade missions to China led by Sens. Christopher "Kit" Bond and aClaire McCaskill.
Many trade missions later, the MCHC's goal is to establish the Big Idea by late 2010 with cargoflights to and from the Far East.
"The MCHC is a broad-based coalition made up of political, civic and business interest and thebest description I have heard for the commission is it represents this communities' collectivepolitical will to get this idea executed," Jones said. "And in my 25 to 30 years of public work inthe St. Louis area I have never been involved in an effort that had this broad of support and thismuch enthusiastic support by so many critical players of the St. Louis regional community."Steven S. Johnson, senior vice-president of Economic Development for the St. Louis RegionalChamber of Commerce & Growth Association, called the St. Louis area "a market to big toignore" for trade with China.
He also said over the years that St. Louis business leaders and politicians have been able to"achieve access to the highest levels of China's government" and that the Chinese leaders havebeen very receptive to the "Big Idea."
"St. Louis offers China the opportunity to be the ‘first in,' an opportunity to strategicallydominate a market," he said.
According to Johnson, China wants to buy more U.S. goods, plans to raise the value of itsexports, is building a U.S. financial services base and may move the air freight share of U.S.-China trade to Chinese air freight companies.
He added that currently 80 percent of the international air freight that goes between China andthe U.S. is carried by non-Chinese carriers.
"There will come a point in time when they say ‘thanks, we'll take it from here' and put a lot ofthat freight on Chinese carriers," Johnson said. "It's now our turn now to say here are somerecommendations from our side that we think can help you make those objectives."
In previous recent visits to St. Louis, Bond has said the Chinese "are all for this (China Hub). Ithas the full support of the Chinese National People's Congress. The CAAC, the Chineseequivalent to our Federal Aviation Administration, says it will be on its preferential list. The onlyquestion is whether it's commercially viable. All the parties are looking at the fourth quarter ofthis year as a start date."
Bond has also said the China Hub's impact on the St. Louis region will be significant."In the short term there will be a lot more construction at Lambert-St. Louis InternationalAirport," Bond said. "Immediately there will be more jobs, transportation, distribution andfreight handling. I hope at the same time we will see more export opportunities. I know severalSt. Louis area businesses now export and they're looking to use more readily available airtransport for their products. I hope more businesses will be involved."
Bond added the export of locally and Midwest grown agricultural products is also high on theChina Hub's list.