The Herald-Tribune, July 30, 2017, Diane Raver
When you think of Indiana, most people don’t consider ships or barges traveling on waterways to various destinations across the United States and internationally. But, believe it or not, Indiana has ports and cargo that are making a great impact on the state’s economy.
The Ports of Indiana is a statewide port authority that operates a system of three ports on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. Vice President Jody Peacock explained the growth and development of this system to Hillenbrand Community Leadership Series participants July 24.
“Most people think Indiana is landlocked, but 57 percent of its border is water. The southern border has the Ohio River. The Wabash River is to the west and the Great Lakes to the north.” There are also three ports: Burns Harbor in Portage (opened in 1970) and Mount Vernon (1976) and Jeffersonville (1985) in those cities.
The Ports of Indiana “was created by the state government as a body both corporate and politic, and zero tax dollars are used in port operations. We have to generate the revenue from our operations,” he reported.
“We are managing 2,800 acres of land and have 26 employees at four offices. We’re the only statewide port authority in the Midwest. If you look at states like Ohio, their ports are under city or county jurisdiction, and they compete against each other. In Indiana, we use the same resources internally, and our ports do not compete against each other for business.
“Our mission is to develop and maintain a world-class port system that operates as an agile, strategically-driven, self-funded enterprise dedicated to growing Indiana’s economy.”
The speaker revealed, “Our governing structure starts with the governor and then a bipartisan commission. There are no political gurus. These are businesspeople. I find that refreshing because you don’t know what political party they are with.” In addition, “the management team does not come from government. We come from the private sector.”
He noted, “Thirty percent of our revenue comes from managing dock operations. We receive a payment for traffic going through our ports by rail, truck, barge …. (but) most of our revenue (70 percent) comes from leasing industrial sites. Companies that use the docks can build there.
“One hundred percent of that revenue gets re-invested …. The economic impact is $7.8 billion annually.”
The breakdown of what cargo is handled through the ports: coal, 37 percent; steel, 16; grain, 12; soy products, 9; ethanol, 7; fertilizer, 6; miscellaneous, 5; limestone and minerals, 4 each.
“Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan consists of 600 acres and is the smallest of the ports, but it has ocean ships that regularly come into the Great Lakes. On the Ohio River, it’s strictly barges.”
Burns Harbor deals with companies that ship steel, grain, minerals, fertilizer, heavy-lift cargo and oversized equipment. Mount Vernon “serves as a major gateway for the agricultural, coal and manufacturing industries, while Jeffersonville is a steel-focused port that serves the auto industry.”
Why are ports needed? “It creates global connections. Our ports ship cargo between 31 countries and all 50 states. There is grain going to Japan, steel to Europe, lab modules from Sweden for Eli Lilly, ethanol to the southern U.S., windmills from Spain, coal to the Midwest and beer tanks from Germany.”
Peacock said, “We are the connection points between the Great Lakes and inland waterways. We have a port system at the crossroads of America …. Some of the economic impacts include global access, economic growth, high-paying jobs and logistics savings.”
There has been talk of a new port. “It started when (former governor and now U.S. Vice President) Mike Pence said, ‘We want an opportunity for a fourth port. Gov. Eric Holcomb has also embraced it. We have had to expand our ports five times, and 80 percent of the original land is gone.
“Our three ports are in major metro areas. Cincinnati is the only other metro area that touches water that doesn’t have a port.”
He told attendees, “You are in a very strategic area locally between the Ohio River and the Honda plant (in Greensburg). The current site we’re exploring is in Lawrenceburg. A (former) power plant there has waterfront infrastructure in place …. We hope to finalize negotiations in a matter of weeks.” If it is purchased, cleanup efforts would take three to four years.
“Lawrenceburg doesn’t have as much land that’s suitable for port development as our other ports do …. (but) if we can connect the railroad to other locations nearby, such as Honda and Batesville, we can serve those communities with a rail shuttle to those ports …. We think it’s going to be an economic and work attraction.”
He pointed out, “Batesville was founded in 1852 by the owner of the Cincinnati to Indianapolis Railroad. On Nov. 1, 1853, the first train from Cincinnati to Indianapolis passed through Batesville …. I challenge you to think back to your roots and see if there is an opportunity for Batesville.”