Fom left, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Elaine Bedel, President of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., and Jeffersonville's Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI) plant manager Chris Winger take a look at finished flats rolls of steet at SDI on Thursday. Staff photo by Josh Hicks
JEFFERSONVILLE — While many people "don't even think" about the Ports of Indiana, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch contends they're major players in the state's economy.
The Jeffersonville port alone handles 2.8 million tons of cargo and is a stop for more than 1,000 barges and 17,000 railcars. Home to manufacturing companies serving the automotive industry, Port Director Scott Stewart believes most American-made vehicles have "something in or on it that came through Jeffersonville."
" ... It's important that Gov. [Eric] Holcomb and I recognize and appreciate these assets that the state of Indiana has, and it's important that our corporate partners that are here in the private sector knows that the state is ready to be here and walk alongside them and make them successful," Crouch said during a tour of the Jeffersonville port Thursday.
"Because when the port thrives, Indiana thrives."
The three state ports together handle more than 25 million tons of domestic and international shipments every year via Lake Michigan and the Ohio River.
That's important for industries like agriculture, of which the state exports $4.6 billion in goods every year, Crouch said. One of the ports' main shipments is grain.
"This is one of the means by which we are able to export those products, so having the availability to be able to move and to be able to logistically get crops in and get crops out is extremely important, plus other products, too," she said.
State officials are considering creating a fourth port, likely in Lawrenceburg along the Ohio River.
"[It's] something they see as very viable and that could exist and complement what we already have," Elaine Bedel, Indiana Economic Development Corp. president, also said on the tour.
A real estate company is working with the Ports of Indiana to determine the feasibility of redeveloping a retired coal power plant in Lawrenceburg into a new port.
"I will say, in my conversation with Gov. Holcomb at the end of last week, he mentioned the fourth port and his optimism," Crouch said.
Stewart credits the Jeffersonville port's success in part to its location. It has quick access to rail, a waterway and the interstate system now, which is now even more connected with the completion of the Lewis and Clark Bridge to Prospect, Ky. A transportation corridor that can handle heavy haul that will connect the port to River Ridge Commerce Center is in planning stage.
The port is poised for more expected growth after $18 million infrastructure improvement project will build out its logistics capabilities, doubling its freight-handling capacity. Stewart called the area "nothing short of an infrastructure bonanza."
"I just can't think of any region that has what we have," he said.
State Sen. Ron Grooms, who attended the tour, is advocating for a road to connect the Clark County Regional Airport and River Ridge Commerce Center.
He pointed out during a meeting with the lieutenant governor, IEDC president and other officials that the road is "not expensive." If the airport and River Ridge build their segments of the road, about $2.1 million is needed to connect the ends in the middle.
Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, is hoping a combination of local and state money can fund the connection.