ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — Was it a flim-flam, a boondoggle, or just a big idea that fell short? Architects of the China Hub dream are on the defensive, after five weeks without a Chinese plane landing at Lambert.
“It’s not a boondoggle by any stretch of the imagination,” said Midwest China Hub Commission Chairman Mike Jones, “The question is, is it the success that we want?”
Taxpayers have funded $3.5 million worth of studies and marketing efforts to make the dream a reality over the past few years. Jones admits he’s disappointed that all St. Louis has to show is a “contractual arrangement” with one Chinese cargo carrier — a carrier that’s been a no-show five weeks in a row.
So far, two cargo flights have landed in St. Louis. And the five week gap without a flight is far from the “one fight a week” that promoters promised over the summer when China Hub fever was rising.
Since then, though, the Missouri Legislature failed to pass a tax break package designed to lure freight forwarders to build warehouses for the China Hub. And Jones echoes the assessment of Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge that a recent global slowdown in Chinese exports is also part of the problem.
But not everyone believes what we have here is a temporary setback.
Aviation Consultant Michael Boyd, of the Boyd Group, says local civic leaders “should be ashamed” for implying the hub could ever take off.
“There never was a flicker of a hope for a China hub,” Boyd said, “You never had any kind of chance of getting several airplanes coming in from China and several going out, which is what a hub is.”
Airport Director Hamm-Niebruegge told KMOX earlier this week she is now turning her attention to marketing Lambert as a cargo destination for business coming out of South and Central America.
But Boyd says that, too, won’t work.
“That’s every bit as ridiculous as having Mid-America Airport (in Mascoutah, Illinois) as a cargo hub for flowers,” Boyd said, “It’s like, give it up. It isn’t going to work, and give up the flim-flam. That’s all there is to it.”
Boyd says the taxpayer funded Midwest China Hub Commission should be disbanded immediately.
Commission Chair Jones says the group will discuss at its December meeting how to move forward and scale back its operations. “The commission is at the end of what our assignment was,” Jones said.
On the commission, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann says $150,000 in St. Charles County taxpayer money has been contributed to the effort, but there is no money in his budget for the China Hub Commission this year.
Also on the commission, Dan Mehan, of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce reports his group has spent $250,000 on China Hub. “It was a good use of our resources to try to make this thing work,” Mehan said,”We made great progress. We’re not there yet. But we can’t give up.”
Scaling down expectations, Midwest China Hub Commission Chair Jones predicts the public won’t know whether the dream was a success for many years.
“I’m not a marketing person. I’m not a carnival huckster,” Jones said, “So, I’m not going to sell you some snake oil and say if you take this now, in the morning you’ll feel better. Now, if you start down this road, in ten or fifteen years, if you get it right, and if you catch a break, this can be a different place.”
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