Preview days seek to help startups pop up at America's Central Port

Port district aims to attract new businesses
2012-07-17T09:00:00Z 2012-09-10T13:38:32Z Preview days seek to help startups pop up at America's Central PortBy Amelia Flood stltoday.com
July 17, 2012 9:00 am  • 

Although the first Preview the Port Day July 13 had few attendees, officials hope that the events, coupled with the port's Rivers Edge Enterprise Center and other amenities, will attract more newcomers.

"We'd love to see them all bursting at the seams," Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America's Central Port said July 13.

The port district currently has 75 tenants, he explained, and has the capacity for more.

"We've been very pleased to focus on our tenants here, to keep them here and to keep them satisfied," Wilmsmeyer said. "We'll continue to try and fit as many people in here as want to locate here. There are so many opportunities for our tenants here."

The port covers 75 square miles. It includes Granite City, Madison and Venice in its bounds. Created in 1959, the port district added 840 acres of land when the U.S. Army's Charles Melvin Price Support Center closed in 2000. According to Frank Miles, the port's business development manager, the district has 1.7 million square feet of warehouse space, 70,000 square feet of office space and sites from 1 to 90 acres that could be developed.

"One of the major goals back then, as now, is to create jobs and economic opportunities for the people of southwestern Madison County," Miles said in a July 10 interview. "Preview the Port is a way to get the word out that these options are available."

Carl Yount, vice president of marketing and customer solutions for the Port Harbor Railroad, was at work with a model railroad in his office. The space is part of his company's expansion at the port. Port Harbor has been part of the district since it was known as Respondek Railroad Corp. The company is a class 3 railroad and does loading, docking and storage work. The district has access to the Mississippi River, major interstates and rail lines.

"I have an excellent rapport with the customers and everybody," Yount said.

The district counts its location and the enterprise center — or "incubator" — as assets the public can use, Wilmsmeyer said.

The enterprise center opened in 2002. The port partnered with the entrepreneurship program at the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville three years ago, said Kristine Jarden, the program's director. SIUE, she explained, provides business counseling, business plan review and other services to the small businesses in the incubator. It also pairs businesses with SIUE students who may help with marketing and other efforts. Currently, there are about 15 businesses in the program, "from the innovative to just the day-to-day," Jarden said. It has 20 spots.

The port's ability to accommodate heavy industry and manufacturing makes it unique among St. Louis-area small business incubators, Wilmsmeyer and Jarden said. The port's incubator is the only one of its kind formally operating in this part of Illinois.

Miles noted that a variety start-ups have inquired about the port.

"I get calls at least once a week from someone interested in space or in starting a new business," Miles said. "I get calls from people wanting to start a social work office. I get calls from wine distributors."

The port's many buildings, including playing fields and apartments, also give it a leg up.

"It's like a little town," Jarden said as Wilmsmeyer agreed.

"It's really a mixed-use business campus," he explained. "You have the ability to live where you work."

Contact reporter Amelia Flood at 618-344-0264, ext. 133

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