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A United Front: Area Chamber Urges Lawmakers to Act on China Hub

The Northwest Chamber Chamber of Commerce, serving members in North County, sends a letter to the state requesting an extra session to consider tax credits to spur trade, and asks its members to do so also.

The prospect of a so-called China hub, centered around Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, has leaders of the Northwest Chamber of Commerce lobbying the Missouri legislature to act. 

The chamber, which serves members across St. Louis County, wrote a letter to lawmakers, urging them to jump-start the proposed China hub with an emergency session. The chamber believes the session would put the Aerotropolis tax credits on the table, credits designed to attract Chinese companies.

Mike Leblanc, co-chair of the Northwest Chamber’s economic development committee, said if the legislature waits until September to look at the issue, the Chinese may discover Kansas City, MO or Memphis, TN are more serious than St. Louis about establishing a partnership.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported the tax incentives stalled in the state legislature in May. That same month, the website published an article about the new Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, described by an aide for County Executive Charlie Dooley as "a critically important development in the growth of St. Louis...." 

Senators Eric Schmidt, Brian Munzlinger and Bill Stouffer introduced the bill. The legislation would allow “the City of St. Louis or any county to designate certain areas as gateway zones. Any such municipality that designates an area as a gateway zone will be required to establish a board of supervisors that will annually levy special assessments on facilities located within the zone which receive benefits provided under the act. Revenues derived from the special assessments will be expended to promote and advertise the gateway zone,” the state Senate’s website states.

Among other provisions, the Aerotropolis package would authorize tax credits on 25 cents per chargeable kilo of goods shipped on certain outbound flights, the legislature’s website stated.

Leblanc said establishing the China Hub would create 5,000 jobs in the St. Louis area. He wondered how the legislature would leave the 2011 session without addressing the issue.

“To leave session without addressing this issue and the possible creation of 5,000 jobs is unacceptable to most of the voters in a nonpartisan way,” Leblanc said.

At least one state representative is in favor of the emergency session. State Rep. Margo McNeil said she’s been in touch with the governor’s office about the possibility.

“They are holding their cards close to their chests,” McNeil said. “I feel like the governor knows how important this is to the St. Louis region. My gut feeling is that there will be an emergency session, however, the governor has not really let us know either way.”

Leblanc said China Hub would also bring temporary construction jobs to the area. After that could come government positions in areas like customs, he said. The job wave after that would arise from Chinese investors who would be encouraged to buy properties or companies in the area.

David Cox, the City of Hazelwood's economic development director, said the China Hub would not have a great impact on Hazelwood initially. But over time, he said, it could be one of the biggest development deals for the city.

“We’ve got Hazelwood Logistics Center, Aviator Business Park and lot of warehouse storage space,” he said. “A lot of initial processing would be done on the airport site, but there is limited space there. That’s where we would come in with cargo unloading and warehouse storage in Hazelwood.”

The is positioned between interstates 270 and 170, sits on a train line and abuts the airport making it an ideal area for shipping and freight. Tim Davidson, Hazelwood’s communications director, said the city is following Northwest Chamber’s lead and is in the process of drafting a letter in support of an emergency session.

Even if the legislature does not call an emergency session, Cox is confident the lawmakers would support the bill in the next session. He spoke with a source “closer to the ground” in Jefferson City who said the legislature just ran out of time.

“I would suspect that going into the next legislative session, it would be successful and one of the first items it discusses,” he said.

While the tax breaks have supporters, it also has detractors. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the State Senators were caught-up in several tax credits.  

McNeil recognized these items are topics that need attention.

“There are some things that need to be worked out,” she said. “Missouri has a lot of tax credits, and we’re trying to get that under control.”

But McNeil is pleased the Northwest Chamber sent the letter calling for an emergency session. She said the state government needs a push from all the chambers so lawmakers can see this is what people want.

“There’s nothing that pushes legislators more than when the people say what they want," she said.

Julian Johnson June 22, 2011 at 06:05 PM
This is an important and critical move for St. Louis nd the local economy. I say push whatever credits need to go trhough to make it happen. Don't look at the short term financial crunch that it may create; think long term. The airport has struggled since TWA caved and American basically stripped it raw. This will be the beginning of a major revitalization for Lambert and St. Louis at large. Opposition from nay sayers is to be expected like that Webbar guy in Kansas City. I'm sure if the smoke blew their way he would be singing a different tune. Othere majaro cargo carriers will turn their focus to St. Louis as a result of this. Major Airlines may increase flights like Delta, who has trimmed the fat in Memphis and in Cincinnati. The overall attention will help bring St. Louis' expensive landing fees down to a more reasonable amount and we'll be back in the game! I say go for it!!!!

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