Gov. Quinn signs bill creating Alexander-Cairo port district

By Julia Bruck - bioemail

CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - The Heartland received another economic boost. Thursday afternoon Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill that will create the Alexander-Cairo Port District.

Quinn says this law and the port district will help attract the businesses and jobs to southern Illinois.

"We gotta make sure that we have the facilities near the rivers that allow business to really operate in a positive way, that's what port districts are all about," Quinn said.

The port district is expected to benefit both Cairo and the surrounding counties.

The idea of a port district in the Cairo area has been around for years.  But with governor's approval of this legislation, the idea is now a huge step closer to becoming a reality.

Rail, road and two of the country's major rivers all meet in Cairo.  For years these resources have been underutilized.  But Donna Raynalds, with the Southern Most Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone, says that should change with a new port district.

"Our ultimate goal is to establish an intermodal facility so that we can take advantage of the river, the rail and the highway infrastructure," Raynalds said.

American Commercial Lines set up its tow boat works in Cairo back in the early 1970s.

Vice President and General Manager Bill Foster says recently the company reorganized and moved some of management to Cairo.  He says when it comes to river shipping this is the place to do business.

"It's the central hub where the Ohio River and the Mississippi River meets," Foster said. "It's where lower river boats come up and they get broken up and sent up in smaller tow (boats)."

But Foster's company is not the only business set to benefit from new a port district.

Shelia Brown opened Fish and More some six weeks ago.  Brown says since opening, she's had a steady stream of customers.  But once a new intermodal facility is built, and employees fill it, she hopes they'll take a lunch or dinner breaks at her stand.

"I think that would be a great idea, considering we don't have a lot of businesses here and it would be a great opportunity for us," Brown said.

Raynalds says development of a port district could take up to 10 years. But she hopes that's not the case in Cairo. The next step is to create a port district board. Those appointments are expected in 60 days.

The port district is eligible for state and federal dollars. It also will help with area development by giving tax breaks to businesses.

Copyright 2010 KFVS. All rights reserved.