Calvert City, KY – The Tennessee River slides along the northern boarder of Calvert City, past the 16 industrial plants that currently serve as the town's bread and butter. Many residents rarely see the river's banks because they're located a few miles past the city's hub. However, in 2 year's time, the construction of a multi-million dollar port could bring this river out of obscurity.
Calvert City Mayor Lynn Jones believes the town's neglected resource could launch the community into a new phase of development.
"The idea of a Marshall County/Calvert City river port came about about seven years ago. It will be a public port, and we're trying to very strongly emphasize for the industry who's here that they utilize the port for their product to either be shipped out or shipped in, thinking that in the future, the cost of shipping by river versus any other means of transportation will be much cheaper and also much safer."
Jones says the project holds promise because of its location. Situated on the mile of riverfront between Cypress Creek and Clear Pond, the port will effectively fuse river transportation with Calvert's established rail and highway systems.
"We have the advantage of rail and a major highway system within short distance of the port area. In fact, it's right there. It's right on it - just borders it. A product unloaded at our port can be transported to most of the manufacturing complexes within this country."
Roger Colburn, however, sees obstacles looming in the project's future - namely competition. Colburn's firm, Florence and Hutcheson Incorporated, developed the master plan for the port's construction. Although he says the project will enjoy the advantages of prime location and easy transportation, it will have to wrestle business away from similar ports that are currently springing up in other cities along the Tennessee. It's a problem officials have to watch closely.
"One has to consider the providers of the services in the area that you're competing with. There are limits. It's a kind of demand/capacity issue - basic economics. And, I think that's one of the things the board's been keen to as they move forward with this. They don't want to get into something that is not going to be viable. I think that continues to be part of the process that they monitor."
The port's planners, however, believe Calvert City has the resources to keep a competitive edge. Incoming economic development director, Josh Tubbs, has studied the community's economic situation and prospects. He says no one knows exactly what industries will settle along the Tennessee River to use the new port, but he says the companies that do will find not only a ready convergence of rail, river and road transportation in the region but an educated workforce as well.
"Of course Murray State University is very close to us. We also have the West Kentucky Community and Technical College that's relatively close in Paducah that allows for a lot of job training and further education, what have you. That's very attractive, I would say."
Officials will also need to find millions of dollars to fund the port. The first stage of construction will cost an estimated 16 to 20 million alone. Tubbs says planners hope to acquire the bulk of that money in the form of infrastructure grants from both the federal and state governments. The size of those grants could depend upon whether President-elect Barack Obama fulfills his campaign promises.
"I think I speak for every community throughout the nation when I say that we're all looking to see what happens in this next administration. There's been talk of an economic stimulus package to build infrastructure throughout the nation, so I think that that will be very helpful if it comes along and I think that it's going to be very competitive to get that funding."
Although Mayor Jones hopes to open the port in the next two years, the project will potentially take 10 years to fully complete and even then, it won't provide the city with a plethora of jobs.
"It will be another niche for us to provide additional jobs - to attract additional business through which other jobs will be attracted as well. The port itself will not hire a lot of people, but the spin-offs from - the other entities that come - they will hire the people, and that's where the economic advantages actually come from."
Mayor Jones hopes construction will have begun on the much-awaited port by the end of 2009, and within the next few years, he expects the city to develop a business district separate from Calvert's Main Street. The rest of this port's potential success will be up to future entrepreneurs.