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China Hub(bub): Mixed Messages on St. Louis' Aerotropolis

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Who's spinning yarns when it comes to St. Louis' Aerotropolis? Business and political leaders or the industry experts?
The story appearing Saturday in China Daily sounded promising for St. Louis and its quest to transform Lambert St. Louis International Airport into a major cargo hub with China.

"St. Louis set to be major air trade hub," read the headline in China's state-funded English-language paper. And the lede paragraph sounded even more promising: "The first China-St. Louis cargo air route poised to be a key trade hub in the US' Midwest will take flight in September, sources involved in the project have recently told China Daily."

Wow! Had Chinese officials confirmed to China Daily the news that St. Louis politicians and business leaders so desperately want to hear? Has the Chinese government officially agreed to make St. Louis its main shipping channel into the Midwest?

Ehh.

Reading the rest of the article it becomes clear that China Daily's "sources" are St. Louis officials telling the paper what they hope to hear from the Chinese.

The story goes on to quote St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Dan Mehan; and St. Louis County policy adviser Mike Jones. All offer up extremely rosy expectations.

Jones, for example, says he's optimistic the "final piece of legislation" will be approved soon for the project, also known as St. Louis Aerotropolis. But in truth, it's less and less certain that lawmakers will provide the $360 million in public financing for the project this summer after failing to do so during the regular session.

Meanwhile, St. Louis' plan for a China hub last week gained another key detractor, this one the person who wrote the book on subject. Greg Lindsay, author of the book Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, shot down St. Louis' plans last week on Twitter.

"Well, nobody asked me, but as the guy who wrote the book on the subject, I don't think it will work there," Lindsay tweeted on Wednesday.

As Lindsay later told the Post-Dispatch, he thinks China may use St. Louis until the subsidies run out. Then they'll return to shipping to bigger air cargo hubs, such as Chicago and Dallas.

Michael Webber, an air-cargo analyst, made similar arguments to Daily RFT earlier this month, which were met with sharp criticism from supporters of the cargo hub.

So the box score from the past few weeks: Two industry experts pan St. Louis' aerotropolis, while China Daily parrots the dreams and hopes of St. Louis leaders. Which source do you believe?
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For more St. Louis news and gossip, follow me on Twitter @chadgarrison or Facebook at Daily RFT.

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15 comments
Tyson Lauby
Tyson Lauby

This is exactly right.

"As Lindsay later told the Post-Dispatch, he thinks China may use St. Louis until the subsidies run out. Then they'll return to shipping to bigger air cargo hubs, such as Chicago and Dallas."

They will take free money up front and then ditch when the bills are supposed to come due.

Cole Goodrich
Cole Goodrich

Considering that the feasibility issue relates to concern over whether the Chinese are sufficiently committed to the initiative, what you are really asking is whether the Chinese government (China Daily is a mouthpiece for the central government, not Mike Jones) or American aviation industry analysts have a better understanding of the Chinese government’s policy goals and expectations.  I’ll go with the former.  Short of flying Hu Jintao over here to sing “I Got You, Babe” with Francis Slay at a karaoke bar, we couldn’t have asked for a stronger indication of their commitment to the initiative. Your “box score” is irrelevant.  It’s also worth noting that this criticism, much of which was entirely off base, was made prior to the Chinese government’s decision to publicly endorse the initiative in a leading state-owned publication

BK
BK

To answer your question posed in the last sentence:  I'll believe the city leaders who are involved in the project eyeballs deep.  Especially since Weber was found to be on the payroll of our major competition, and Lindsay said that an aerotropolis, per his definition, will never work in STL.  I'll take a cargo trade hub that was put in place by poorly named legislation any day. 

dave
dave

It should be noted that the author of that book was given money and "hired" by a civic group against the air cargo hub. So it also has no real credit to it too. We have to do something than NOTHING.

LouMyopicLeaders
LouMyopicLeaders

Great we can be just like Memphis!  What a disaster in the making...

Jim Fetterolf
Jim Fetterolf

And once St. Louis gets its subsidies, the Chinese will go to O'Hare for a better deal, then back to St. Louis.  The ChiComs aren't our friends.  I need to ask my state senator, Will Kraus, why he supports subsidies for the Chinese to kill more American jobs.

Jim Fetterolf
Jim Fetterolf

Chinese commitment would be better shown by signed contracts.

Chad Garrison
Chad Garrison

In that case, why wouldn't China Daily quote or at least allude to Chinese officials as its sources? Before we set aside $360 million for this project, let's make sure it's not another local aviation boondoggle (ex. Lambert runway expansion, Mid-America Airport).

Jim Fetterolf
Jim Fetterolf

"Especially since Weber was found to be on the payroll of our major competition"

Mr. Webber wasn't 'found', his past consulting work for O'Hare and other major transport hubs around the world was mentioned in his original article, which apparently only you and the director at Lambert were unaware of.

"I'll take a cargo trade hub that was put in place by poorly named legislation any day."

Then by all means invest your own money in the project and convince St. Louis businesses to join you.  I think it's a bad idea, so will decline to invest.  Best of luck and hope you get rich beyond your wildest dreams.

Chad Garrison
Chad Garrison

Yes, Webber is paid to consult many airports, some of which could be seen as our "competition." But that doesn't render his concerns moot. Working with numerous airports is how he's become an expert in that field.

Jim Fetterolf
Jim Fetterolf

If it's such a great idea to bail out the heavily indebted and mismanaged Lambert Field, as well as politically connected land developers wishing to build subsidized, redundant warehouse space, I think St. Louis taxpayers should join St. Louis businessmen to belly up and pay for it themselves.  Enough corporate welfare.

Cole Goodrich
Cole Goodrich

Again, it's important to note that only exports are subsidized.  The only thing that will fix the current trade imbalance is the appreciation of the Yuan (the current rate is simply unsustainable) and the Chinese middle-class, which is growing at an astonishing rate, purchasing US made goods. Moreover, we have the opportunity to be the hub through which China trades with much of the US and South America.  Also, these incentives are largely performance-based, and the state would only be temporarily refraining from collecting taxes on business that otherwise would not exist in the region.  The Chinese seem interested in building an enduring trade hub, not some transient port through which they can dump their wares.  I really don't understand this resistance

Cole Goodrich
Cole Goodrich

You’re right; a contract would be preferable.  As long as local media outlets stopshitting on this important initiative, we should expect the governor to call a special session and for the Chinese to sign many contracts. Jim Lembke, one of the two house reps who voted against the bill, said that he thinks that a special session is more likely than not.

Cole Goodrich
Cole Goodrich

Printing these words in freakin China Daily is a clear indication that they are highly interested. The Chinese would not have set aside prime space in their equivalent to the NYT so that one of their airlines could save a few bucks landing a couple of cargo planes.  Journalism in China is very different from how it is here. That would never, ever run in China Daily unless it had clearance from high up. I don't have time to address your characterization of the initiative's price tag, so i'll just refer you here: http://nextstl.com/transportat...It has since been reduced to $360 million by making the incentives even more performance based

For what it's worth, Mr. Lindsay is apparently the editor of FedEx's PR publication. FedEx would suffer the most from a successful trade hub at Lambert. http://www.openforum.com/idea-...

Martadp789
Martadp789

The president of the carrier Lambert was depending upon to provide that link to Latin America was arrested yesterday for distributing child pornography. There's a reason people like Hedrick don't go to major cargo hubs and that is because the cargo communities there are sophisticated enough to make a few calls & determine whether they're legitimate. By that, I mean that they actually are airline operators rather than swimming pool contractors. So guys like Hedrick have to go to places like St. Louis where they can exploit the rubes like the guys leading the St. Louis aerotropolis efforts.

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