Southwest Illinois Showcases Region’s Assets, Investment Potential to Foreign Trade and Investment Visitors

On May 15-16, business and government leaders across Southwest Illinois led international trade representatives from 11 countries on a first-hand tour of the resources – and the relationships – that this region offers global trade partners and foreign direct investors. “Discover Southwest Illinois” was the title of the event.

The two-day summit, hosted by the Southwest Illinois Trade and Investment Council (SWITIC), included up-close-and-personal visits to robotics-equipped warehouse-distribution hubs, walking tours of an intermodal port district and more. SWITIC Board President David Kniepkamp, an active exporter as well as president of Smart Controls LLC, said the visit showcased Southwest Illinois to the fullest, cementing valuable trade and investment relationships.

“As a fairly young organization, this was SWITIC’s first true hosting experience of such magnitude,” Kniepkamp said. “We’re proud of the region in which we live and work, and we’re grateful to the trade commissioners from CITCA (Chicago International Trade Commissioners Association) who made the commitment to travel here and spend two intensive days learning all that we have to offer. We’ve already received very positive feedback from our guests and from those here at home who played an important role in connecting local and regional exporters and service providers in Southwest Illinois with global partners seeking to further trade and foreign direct investment in our region.”

David Kniepkamp and Edie Koch

Kim Hamilton and Silvia Torres Bowman

Mark Kern, Terry Beach and Phil Hickman

Silvia Torres Bowman, director of the International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, echoed Kniepkamp’s impressions of the two-day “Discover Southwest Illinois” event this past week.

“Personally and professionally, this visit has been an unforgettable experience for me,” said Torres Bowman. “This was a fine group of international leaders, warm and fun, who welcomed every opportunity of ‘Discovering Southwest Illinois.’ They are deeply committed to open trade relationships. The CITCA trade commissioners were eager to learn more about our region, a large piece of the state about which they knew very little before their arrival this past week. By the end of their second day with us, new friendships were formed and Southwest Illinois is now on the radars of 11 international trade offices,” she added.

Edie Koch, executive director of Monroe County Economic Development Corporation and a member of the SWITIC board, planned and coordinated much of the logistics that brought CITCA guests representing the following countries: Argentina, Belgium-Flanders, Bulgaria, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Italy, the Philippines, Spain and the Ukraine. Koch said the opportunity to introduce trade commissioners to the vibrant manufacturing and exporting climate exhibited across Southwest Illinois brought the region’s immense potential and its extensive menu of global resources to life.

“It was our privilege to share detailed information about Southwest Illinois with our global trade visitors,” Koch said. “I am eager to follow up on the reverse trade mission possibilities and the business prospect referral process that several of the trade commissioners offered. This delegation of Chicago-based foreign consuls and trade commissioners are the official representatives of their countries’ companies and will play a strategic role in facilitating new trade endeavors and foreign direct investment in Southwest Illinois.”

On day one of the tour, SWITIC members let CITCA trade commissioners through Walgreens and World Wide Technology, both at Gateway Commerce Center in Edwardsville, where they witnessed advanced robotics systems tied to warehouse/distribution and fulfillment. Nearby Lakeview Commerce Center was also on the touring agenda, as was America’s Central Port, where the international guests saw the inner workings of a vibrant global port. Dennis Wilmsmeyer, a SWITIC board member and the port’s executive director, said Southwest Illinois’ messaging about its multi-modal interconnectivity, its enormous economic impact and its proximity to St. Louis became clear.

“Our message that the Port is strategically located in the heart of the U.S. on the Mississippi River, mere minutes north of downtown St. Louis, along with its direct access to three major transportation modes, was clear,” Wilmsmeyer said. “Great questions sparked productive conversations that afternoon and they continue,” he added.

On day two, trade commissioners toured MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, seeing North Bay Produce Inc.’s importing and exporting operations firsthand; each year, North Bay moves millions of cases of fresh produce through the airport. CITCA trade commissioners also toured Sauget Industrial Park, home to more than 20 light manufacturing, logistics, fabrication and processing tenants. The group learned about development assets and opportunities in Dupo and Monroe County from business development leaders at 11 South in Columbia and later toured the Rock City Business Complex – a six million-square-foot, underground business park – in Valmeyer. Commissioners and SWITIC members visited the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the only facility in the world at which corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, advanced biofuels and specialized chemical research occurs simultaneously.

Teodora Boteva, head of the Chicago-based commercial and economic office of Bulgaria’s Consulate General, said the two-day “Discover Southwest Illinois”tour reconfirmed her opinion that the region just to the east of St. Louis is replete with natural resources, man-made commodities, foreign direct investment opportunities and the human connections to make partnerships central to these assets come to fruition on a global scale.

“The reason that we came here to Southwest Illinois is that networking – human connections – mean everything,” Boteva said. “Illinois is the fifth-largest state exporter of goods, exporting Illinois-manufactured goods to more than 220 countries last year. We share so many valuable, mutual connections with all of you and we stand ready to continue working together, CITCA and SWITIC, in connecting our people, our organizations, our companies and our supply chains to further international trade.”

Philippines Consul General Gina Jamoralin also commented on the value of spending two days learning in earnest about the vast potential of connecting trade commissioners with exporters and service providers across Southwest Illinois.

“I believe what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard about Southwest Illinois,” said Jamoralin. “And now that we’ve connected and begun to grow these essential global relationships to further trade and foreign direct investment, please remember that we’re only an email away… and we invite you to come and visit us.”

Originally formed in 2015 by government leaders in Madison and St. Clair Counties, SWITIC has since expanded to serve all of Southwest Illinois. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to educate, equip and connect local and regional exporters with the expertise and contacts to begin or expand exporting their products globally. SWITIC’s goal is also to facilitate foreign direct investment opportunities in the area.