In the News

New Corn Belt Ports office hopes to accelerate Tri-State growth, investment

January 18, 2024   Herald-Whig

View Source

CANTON, Mo. — The newest Corn Belt Ports office furthers its partnerships to promote economic development in the Tri-States.


Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the office in the Johnson-Turner Innovation, Design and Experimental Activities Center on the Culver-Stockton College campus.


The office supports the Tri-State Mid-America Port Commission, one of the four regional Corn Belt Ports, which serves with the Tri-State Development Summit as a foundation of the region’s economic development efforts.


“We think working more closely with the Tri-State Development Summit, which is housed at Culver-Stockton, will help accelerate growth and investment in the Tri-State region,” Corn Belt Ports Executive Coordinating Director Bob Sinkler said.


“Our partnership with Culver-Stockton is very important. The work that the region has done for the last couple of decades has really enabled the Tri-State Development Summit to be really effective. It’s an exciting time for the region.”


Culver-Stockton President Lauren Schellenberger said housing the regional office for the ports only deepens the college’s connection to the Mississippi River.


“We recognize and embrace the impact the river, port development and flood control have in ensuring economic prosperity in our region,” Schellenberger said.


“But for a college student population, this is not an area or a topic they tend to know a lot about. When we are involved in it, we’re bringing attention to it for a whole different generation of people who just don’t have that kind of exposure to economic development, the importance of the Mississippi River, the importance of ag in our region, so I see that as one of our benefits but also one of our purposes.”


Area leaders in economic development, river issues and agriculture along with elected officials joined Sinkler and Schellenberger in cutting the ribbon for the new office which “increases visibility of the importance of ports to the central U.S. It’s not just Illinois, Iowa, Missouri. It’s really the central part of this nation because so much product is moving up and down our rivers,” Mid-America Port Commission Chairman Blake Roderick said.


“Getting an office like that here gives us more recognition,” said Ralph Martin, executive director of the Lewis County Port Authority. “It brings more attention to the types of things we’re working on.”


Expanding strategic partnerships helps the ports become an integrated part of the regional economic development landscape — and continue to attract state and federal funding.


“We’ve attracted well over $2 billion (in funding),” Sinkler said. “We’d like to see that investment continue.”


The Canton office joins other newly-opened Corn Belt Ports offices in Peoria, Ill., and on the Western Illinois University campus in the Quad Cities. A fourth office in the LaCrosse, Wis./Wenona, Minn. area is expected to open by the end of February.


“We want to have an office responsive to each one of the Corn Belt regions,” Sinkler said. “Each one will be tailored for whatever we need to best support the region at the time.”


Mid-America Port Commission was recognized as a Top 50 Power Port by Global Trade magazine in 2023 and currently is the 39th largest port in the U.S. It was recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2023 as a Top 25 U.S. Bulk Cargo Port, moving 13.5 million tons of freight.


“For Mid-America Port Commission to get that kind of visibility puts us on the map,” Sinkler said. “It’s easier to make the argument for increased investment in the region.”


Top priority remains finishing lock and dam projects including funding design work on five locks in the Mid-America Port Commission area that are authorized by Congress for construction.


“Our ability to transport goods up and down the Mississippi has made U.S. ag a powerhouse. It’s critical we continue to invest in that infrastructure long-term,” said Darrick Steen, director of public policy with the Missouri Corn Growers Association.


Locating an office on the campus overlooking the Mississippi River and Lock and Dam 20 helps to emphasize the importance of Corn Belt Ports’ work.


“It’s a good place to have an office,” Sinkler said. “It’s a constant reminder that we’re not done. The larger phase of operations is not done until we have a bright shiny new 1,200 foot lock you can see from the Culver-Stockton College campus.”