DECATUR (MCT) — Craig Coil sees the development of the Midwest Inland Port as potentially having the most meaningful impact on Decatur of anything he has worked on in the past 11 years.
The idea to develop the transportation hub was introduced last month as part of opening an intermodal rail ramp for Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Decatur. For the concept to reach its full potential, Coil and other local officials see enhancements needing to be made throughout the area's transportation network, including highways and air service.
"All the pieces are starting to fall into place," said Coil, who will step down next week as president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County. "Companies are starting to see the opportunities to improve their overall operation, which could make a big impact on Decatur and Macon County. The ramp is a part of it."
Transportation was identified as the area that could lay the foundation for success in changes members of the Grow Decatur initiative have been seeking since the group was launched last year. ADM is now linked to three of the country's major railroads while looking to fill the capacity of large shipping containers that is currently going unused.
Decatur is positioned in the middle of the country with access through various methods of transportation to points from coast to coast and around the globe, Coil said.
"The hub includes some of those assets that give us a leg up," said Bruce Nims, one of Grow Decatur's founders. "It's a significant economic development opportunity that really can make the situation dramatically different in Decatur."
Transportation is being discussed with each of Grow Decatur's eight strategic areas of focus, including the broad vibrant and attractive concept, Nims said.
"We need to take the next step to move forward," Nims said.
Trucking would be developed as the Midwest Inland Port becomes a destination to import goods and a source of exports, Coil said. Products could be shipped in or out of the ADM rail facility, which would be linked to other area sites served by trucks.
Connecting it to take advantage of the opportunities Decatur Airport provides has a great potential, Coil said.
"We have outstanding infrastructure at the airport," said Bill Clevenger, executive director of the Decatur Park District, which owns and operates the airport. "Securing a connection with U.S. 36 to Interstate 72 is really important to develop the airport as a freight area so trucks will not have to go through the neighborhoods to reach the highway."
After 10 years of discussions, Macon County Engineer Bruce Bird finally feels comfortable seeing the possibility of a southeast beltway around the Decatur area become a reality.
"We currently have no free-flow access to get goods in and out of that side of town," Bird said. "Anything we can do to improve infrastructure and make it easier with fewer barriers to move products in and out of town, that's going to be a benefit to the community."
With a study of environmental issues complete, securing the funds for the project remains a hurdle, Bird said.
Connections need to continue to improve to be a part of Decatur's economic development strategy, Coil said. As companies have looked at Decatur as a possible site for operations, Coil said the issue on the southeast side of town always seems to be avoiding truck traffic winding through neighborhoods.
"People don't want to do that," he said. "With 24-hour delivery, they need the ability to get through the airport quickly."
Projects already under way, including the expansion of U.S. 51 south of Decatur, are providing the improved connections the area needs to benefit in the long run, said Mirinda Rothrock, Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce president.
"That has been a project that has been ongoing for years," Rothrock said. "It is a very expensive project, one that we do not seem to get often. The project really needs to pick up steam so work can continue to link all the way from Centralia to Pana."
From 2010 to 2015, Rothrock said $54 million has been allotted as the highway is expanded to four lanes. Work is being done to complete the four-lane expansion around Assumption.
Motorists in that area have had to be mindful of lane closures and changing traffic patterns this fall.
Entities involved in transportation projects in the area strive to coordinate efforts as much as possible, Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady said.
The planning is leading to what McCrady sees as enhanced economic development opportunities, especially focused around the intermodal facility and inland port.
"The possibility for more jobs are bigger than any of us can imagine," McCrady said. "The Midwest Inland Port is the biggest opportunity we have in front of us and have had in many years."
Although ADM has announced plans to move its global headquarters out of Decatur after 44 years, it has emphasized the potential it sees with the intermodal facility as it outlined a continued commitment to Decatur's success.
"Their ongoing investment bodes well," Coil said. "We're encouraged by that."
Patricia Woertz, ADM chairman, president and CEO, mentioned the intermodal facility as one of the company's main areas of focus, even as it begins to implement changes that will make Decatur its North American base of operations instead of global headquarters.
"We believe our global presence will provide Decatur and all of Illinois with even greater international exposure and economic opportunities," Woertz said. "Our Decatur inland port facility is one example of the capital investments we will continue to make in Decatur: investments which create opportunity not only for our company but for other new and existing companies that will flourish in Decatur as well."
ADM's stated commitment to Decatur and the work being done to develop the area's transportation network help explain why Nims has moved beyond the disappointment he felt following the company's September announcement of plans to move 100 jobs elsewhere.
"We are proud of having ADM in the community," Nims said. "With the scope of its operation, Decatur has a right to be proud of it. As they explain what they want to do, it makes some sense. We understand what impact they are going to have. They are seriously committed to Decatur and its success."
In terms of the ability to provide a much-needed boost to employment in the community, Nims sees the inland port project as having a greater potential in the years ahead than would maintaining ADM's global headquarters in Decatur. The good things Decatur has to offer are what Nims and others are keeping in mind to maintain an optimistic outlook while moving forward.
"We like what we have here," Nims said. "We can have an impact on the community. Thousands of people at ADM are still doing that. Nobody is saying we might as well close up. They're saying 'that was interesting' and 'now what are we working on?' "
(c)2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)
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