Port, Nash Road have good year, expect better future

Sunday, February 19, 2006
The bed of a truck was tilted up to dump a load of lead concentrate into a chute to a barge below at the SEMO Regional Port Authority at Scott City. (Diane L. Wilson)

The past year has been good to the SEMO Regional Port Authority and Nash Road, as businesses continue to start operations and expand in each. And those involved with the two industrial centers say the future looks even brighter.

In 2005, the port enjoyed its second straight year of shipping more than 1 million tons of product through its harbor. Port director Dan Overbey said the achievement is a milestone.

"In the past it's gone up and down, since there's the economy and changes within the different companies here to factor in," said Overbey. "We'd like to see it keep going up, and the long-term trend is in the right place."

The past year saw the addition of a new businesses at the port -- SEMO Milling, a milling plant that makes food products out of corn -- bringing the total number of businesses to six. The $6 million investment is getting closer to beginning operations, which are expected to employ about 45 people.

On Nash Road, SEMO Box Co., a manufacturer of corrugated boxes, underwent a $600,000 expansion to add 40,000 square feet of new warehouse space to make room for increased production.

Within months another business will move to Nash Road, SI03, a manufacturer of vitamin supplements currently located in Chaffee.

Currently, Nash Road is one of Cape Girardeau's key industrial centers, with companies like Do-it-Best and BioKyowa operating there. The companies on Nash Road come from a variety of business categories -- manufacturing, wholesale, distribution, research.

And there are always prospects looking at the possibility of setting up business on Nash Road, said Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president John Mehner.

But Nash Road and the port weren't always the thriving commercial areas they are today.

About 30 years ago much of the land straddling the border between Cape Girardeau and Scott counties between Cape Girardeau and Scott City was undeveloped.

Since then, two places on that stretch of land -- the SEMO Regional Port Authority and Nash Road -- have seen such growth that they've now become important parts of the local economy.

Both the two have a similar history. The port was founded in 1975 using land set aside as a joint venture between Cape Girardeau and Scott counties. The slackwater harbor around which the port is situated made an ideal location for river shipping, but it took about 15 years before much economic activity took place.

The first years were slow, and it wasn't until 1986, when voters in both counties overwhelmingly passed a one-quarter-cent sales tax, that the port garnered its real start-up capital.

"It was just a long, hard struggle," Overbey said. "There have been a tremendous number of people who have worked on it -- the port board, the people of two counties and the companies that are located here."

But the port had an important mandate from both counties -- reach the point where you can stand on your own financially. That point was finally achieved in the late 1990s, even though the port still uses large federal and state grants for improvements.

Operations actually started off a small dock in 1979, but a new harbor completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1989 really opened up the port for development.

In 1990, the port got its first business from two companies -- Girardeau Stevedores and Midwest Agri-Chemico. Both companies still operate there.

"Before that there was a dock and some traffic moving through the port ... but there wasn't any industrial development out there," Overbey said.

Martin Priggel, Scott County presiding commissioner, has been a commissioner for eight years and seen much of the port's growth.

"The port has great potential, and it's working toward that all the time," said Priggel said. "It's one of the best ports on the Mississippi River."

Priggel said the port has advantages beyond job creation and tax base -- it provides easy shipping access to and from local companies outside the port grounds.

During the port's years of operation, only two businesses there have failed. They were replaced by other businesses that are operating there today.

Now the port has about $18 million in assets.

Nash Road was founded in a different manner. Instead of a government venture, Nash Road is the product of private enterprise.

About 35 years ago a not-for-profit group called the Cape Girardeau Area Benevolent Association began to open the land at low cost to potential developers. The goal was to foster job creation in the local economy. Today, the businesses and industry along Nash Road sustain an estimated 400 jobs, said Mehner, the chamber president.

Only about 200 acres are left undeveloped from the land controlled by the Benevolent Association, said Mehner, less than half of the original amount.

So far, the association has met its goal, Mehner said.

"It was started to make sure there would always be reasonably priced ground for companies that generate jobs, and that's what has happened," Mehner said.

As the port and Nash Road look to the future, more expansion is appearing on the horizon.

Priggel said that as fuel costs become more and more expensive, the port should have guaranteed growth through providing low-cost shipping opportunities.

Meanwhile local industrial and business organizations are constantly working to bring new recruits in to fill those 200 empty acres on Nash Road.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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