By Chad Frey
Friday morning county commissioner Marge Roberson sat and listened to representatives of the Port of Catoosa, the Kansas City Port Authority, the Kansas City SmartPort and other trade leaders talk about the challenges for companies wanting to do business on an international stage.
And she got encouraged — convinced more than ever that construction of the Kansas Logistics Park, which may have cost her a primary election win this summer, was the right thing for Harvey County, the city of Newton and the Harvey County Economic Development Council to build.
"Today told me we keep going," Roberson said. "We need to make plans, and not to get impatient. The economy is turning around, companies have money to invest and we are ready."
At least one part of the message Friday morning at a round-table of transportation experts was clear: Harvey County is ready for what is about to come in the global economy — and the community needs to be patient.
"You need to keep the pressure on," said Chris Gutierrez, president of the Kansas City SmartPort Inc. "The market will dictate the time line. ... As we see some certainty in the next few months (following the November election) we will see some investments."
Gutierrez was part of a round-table discussion hosted by the Kansas Logistics Park Development Authority and the Harvey County Economic Development Council.
There were some muddy waters Friday morning — Gutierrez said he did not believe shopping patterns would change after renovation of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014. Other panelists said they believed that would lead to more freight moving through the central United States — coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.
But that discussion was really the only portion of the 90 minute session where there was dissension.
Karyn L. Page, CEO of Kansas Global (formerly the Kansas World Trade Center) said, in essence, that the completion of the canal is a non-starter for Kansas and the KLP when talking about industry needs in the world of transportation. To her, global demand for what this region produces will drive logistic needs.
"Here in Kansas we are good at three things — food production, transportation and energy," Page said. "What does the rest of the world need? Food, transportation and energy."
The panel, made up of five members, agreed on the future need of regional logistical centers — and said Harvey County was making bold moves to be a leader.
"Companies have resources and a need," Gutierrez said. "Having a plan, having a park is very key. There will not be a chance to 'get ready.' .... You must me ready to move forward now. ... You have a great advantage."
They spoke of planning for different industry sectors — energy, food processing, manufacturing and transportation to name a few — and being ready for when investment in those industries are ready to start growing.
They also said the community needs to be flexible.
"You don't know who is coming," said Michael M. Collins, CEO of the Port Authority of Kansas City. "You don't know who is researching your area right now.