Leaders of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a mayoral-led effort to create a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River, and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) announced several breakthroughs during a first of its kind Mississippi River Economy Summit, which was hosted by MRCTI, the Delta Regional Authority, and the City of Memphis and convened some of the most important River stakeholders.

According to the Department of Transportation, freight bottlenecks on the River cost the American economy $200 billion annually. During the Summit, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Memphis-based Chism Hardy Investments, Ingram Barge Company, America’s Central Port, and the Illinois Soybean Association pledged to work together toward container shipping on the Mississippi River, which will relieve freight congestion, create economic opportunity for its ports and other intermodal industries, and attract investment in the River infrastructure. This service development will be possible by building on the container shipping that previously ran from Memphis to New Orleans, which the Illinois Soybean Association is seeking to re-establish from within their state’s geography and initiate market-based, commercial operations. 

“All-in-all, what we are talking about here is making it cheaper and easier to conduct business – this creates a global advantage for our private sector. China understands this dynamic, that is why they invest 9 percent of their GDP in infrastructure while the U.S. invests less than 3 percent,” explained Mayor Brown, Natchez, Miss.

Another Summit development is the new working relationship being established with the World Trade Center Mississippi River Alliance, comprised of seven world trade centers along the Mississippi River lead by the World Trade Center of New Orleans.

“The relationship we are building with the Alliance will hopefully help better align local investment in River sustainability projects by building investment opportunities between world trade centers and community foundations along the Mississippi River,” said Mayor Dickie Kennemore, Osceola, AR.

The Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee provided a sneak peek of the economic profile of the lower Mississippi River, which further demonstrated the importance of the Summit and the MRCTI to the River’s future. The preview report noted that the region faced turbulent times, marked by hurricanes, oil spills, floods, droughts, and economic upheaval.  Despite this, preliminary findings show that the lower River was responsible for generating $164 billion in revenue in 2011 and supported nearly 585,000 jobs in 2011. Manufacturing was responsible for a bulk of the revenue ($115 billion) followed by tourism ($16 billion) and then agriculture/aquaculture ($9 billion). The full profile—which is the first report of its kind that captures river related economic activity for the lower portion of the River since 2004—is scheduled to be released in December and will provide important data for making decisions about the waterway.

Thirteen mayors participated in the meeting and briefing: Mayor A.C. Wharton, Memphis, Tenn., Host (Co-Chair); Mayor Roy Buol – Dubuque, Iowa (Co-Chair); Mayor Donnie Brown – New Madrid, Mo.; Mayor Larry Brown – Natchez, Miss.; Mayor John Cox III – Greenville, Miss.; Mayor George Flaggs – Vicksburg, Miss.; Mayor Dickie Kennemore – Osceola, Ark.; Mayor David Kleis – St. Cloud, Minn.; Mayor David Lattus – Hickman, Ky.; Mayor Harry Rediger – Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Mayor James Spann – Hartford, Ill.; Mayor Tom Thompson, Grafton, Ill.; and Mayor Brant Walker – Alton, Ill.