Import Export

Michigan could significantly raise its trade capacity, generate millions of dollars in economic activity, and create thousands of jobs by positioning itself as a global freight hub to the Midwest and the rest of the world.


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 There’s no question a new bridge is needed between Detroit and Windsor. The Ambassador Bridge, completed in 1929, is nearing its 100-year life expectancy. However, it’s also clear that demand for two bridges — private and public entities are competing to build separate crossings — can’t be argued based on supply, as cross-border vehicle traffic has declined 43 percent since 1999.

However, the bridge debate, while warranted, has overshadowed a much grander and far more lucrative plan to position Detroit and Windsor as a global freight hub to the Midwest and the rest of the world.

“Michigan can create thousands of jobs if it better supported, integrated, and utilized its trucking, rail, sea, and air freight systems,” says John A. James, chairman and CEO of James Group International Inc., a global logistics and supply chain management company based in Detroit. “We have one of the best transportation networks in the world, but we have allowed it to deteriorate because of political ignorance and competing interests.”

Bringing an integrated transportation plan to fruition in the region will require some $5 billion in added infrastructure, a mix of private and public financing, political fortitude, and a buy-in from international shippers, rail companies, and logistics firms.

Although getting everything to fall into place is a huge challenge, the payback is potentially enormous. The nonprofit entity Great Lakes Global Freight Gateway, made up of business, labor, academic, and political leaders, estimates the infrastructure improvements would generate $11 billion in economic activity and add more than 200,000 jobs to the region by the end of the decade.

To get there, experts say, the state needs to recast and better publicize its support and transcend the bridge debate into a sophisticated plan to establish Michigan — and, more specifically, metro Detroit — as an integrated logistics system second to none.

The endeavor includes fixing past mistakes. As it stands now, cargo containers travel by ship from Europe and Asia and arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Montreal. The cargo containers — those destined for the Midwest and Mexico — are often transferred to railcars before entering the United States via a rail tunnel (opened in 1994) that links Sarnia and Port Huron. From there, the containers pass through Michigan and go directly to Chicago.

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