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Guest commentary: Incentives are key to getting China hub here (9-14-11 St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Over the past 30 years, I have had the opportunity to negotiate many of our company's business transactions in China, where Emerson now has a substantial presence. Earlier this year, at the request of our chairman and CEO, David Farr, I joined the civic effort to advance to so-called Big Idea, to help make the St. Louis region a commercial and cargo hub for the Chinese in the Midwest.

In my view, the Aerotropolis Trade Incentive Act is the key to creating this hub and, therefore, one of the most significant pieces of job-creating legislation that I have seen in my many years at Emerson. By building a broad bridge between us and the country with the most people and fastest-growing economy in the world — China — this bill would provide a major, sustained boost to the economy of the St. Louis region and the whole state.

As profound as its impact could be, the concept behind Aerotropolis actually is quite simple: strengthen the one weak link in the chain of connections between St. Louis and Missouri on the one hand and the world outside the United States on the other. By strengthening that one weak link — robust air transportation — we not only will fill a serious gap, but we also will fortify our other links: our already outstanding assets in highway, rail and water transportation and our enviable central location. Further, we will begin to reinvent St. Louis and Missouri on the world economic stage.

Aerotropolis would stimulate and encourage development of job and investment-generating international cargo and manufacturing facilities within a 50-mile radius of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. There is no question that we need that economic catalyst. While the St. Louis region has fared relatively better than the rest of the nation during the recession, Missouri has not. The state now ranks just 33rd nationally in job creation over the past year, losing jobs in seven of the past 12 months, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Passing Aerotropolis and the overall economic development bill is the single biggest initiative we could take to improve this situation.

Some of the world's fastest-growing economies now are overseas. By forging a strong air link with them, we can become to the world what St. Louis once was to the United States. We can become an important trans-shipment point for goods flowing all over the world. And we also can help manufacture, assemble, process or otherwise improve many of those goods on their way through the region, coming or going.

In addition to a number of extensive feasibility studies and analyses by national and international industry experts, our own logistics team at Emerson (with decades of experience shipping to and from China) rigorously assessed the feasibility of the Lambert China Hub Project. The consensus conclusion: This project is a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity for St. Louis and Missouri.

In short, the Gateway to the West can become a Gateway to the World.

And, as that happens, literally tens of thousands of jobs will be created, with this project conservatively projected to generate more than $20 billion in positive economic impact for the bistate region in the next two decades.

There have been claims by some opponents that the legislation gives taxpayer money to the Chinese airlines. It does not. It offers tax credits to freight forwarders, companies that arrange for the shipping of American and international exports. And it offers tax credits to investors who build facilities that house the specific targets of the incentives — the operations and economic activities aligned with air commerce or with the development of a dynamic regional cargo consolidation point or gateway.

Others claim that Aerotropolis amounts to a big gamble, that it's based on the faith "If we build it, they will come." This also is false. In fact, the credits are performance-based. They have to be earned — in advance. Missouri taxpayers receive the benefits of new jobs, construction and investment before the incentives are even issued. And once they're fully utilized, the infrastructure and the operations — and jobs — that go with them remain.

Bottom line: Aerotropolis has the potential to make the St. Louis region and the state a thriving global hub for exports and job creation.

That's why leaders in the St. Louis business community at Civic Progress, the Regional Chamber and Growth Association and I consider it essential that the special session of the Missouri Legislature pass this legislation as proposed.

Edward L. Monser is president and chief operating officer of Emerson and leads the negotiation team with city officials on the Lambert China hub project.



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