To some, the idea of Michigan emerging as the next big North American transportation and logistics hub sounds ridiculous.
“There hasn't been any marketing of it,” said Jim Smiertka, senior vice president and general counsel of the East Lansing, Mich.-based Prima Civitas Foundation. “If you look at it, it”s a peninsula. A lot of people say, ‘How can Michigan be a logistics hub?’”
But the doubters are missing a few important pieces of information, Smiertka said. First, the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron and Ambassador Bridge in Detroit are the two busiest US-Canadian border crossings. Through these, Michigan has access to the Halifax Deep Water Port and three other deep water ports along the St. Clair River at the Canadian border crossing. Additionally, the Canadian National Railway flows right into Port Huron, Michigan.
Smiertka said the widening of the Panama Canal is also creating a ripe opportunity for these ports; others around the country are not deep enough to accommodate docking super freighters.
“Halifax is a natural deep water port,” he said. “Then you have that direct connection with the CN and the interstate system right into the US and through into Mexico.”
Smiertka said that more than 90 percent of the cargo that currently comes through Michigan continues right on through to Chicago without stopping. Prima Civitas Foundation has been working to change that, developing partnerships with municipalities, chambers of commerce and others.
One of these groups is The Great Lakes International Trade and Transport Hub, which aims to take advantage of the freight traffic to and from the Port of Halifax through Detroit and Port Huron — with Canadian partners in tow. The international partners met for a summit in 2011 to brainstorm ideas for improving trade between Canada and the Midwest. A seven-year action plan delivered to the governor included increasing collaborations between businesses and marketing the region.
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