Years-long effort pays off with FTZ designation

As of Friday the Neosho Industrial Park is now an official "magnet site" of the Springfield-based Southwest Missouri Foreign Trade Zone.

By:  Mike Elswick
Neosho Daily News

As of Friday the Neosho Industrial Park is now an official “magnet site” of the Springfield-based Southwest Missouri Foreign Trade Zone.

The designation allows any approved company which resides in the 237-acre industrial park to become part of the Foreign Trade Zone.

A Foreign Trade Zone is an economic incentives program created by the federal government to facilitate international trade. While FTZs are located within the United States, they legally exist outside the area of U.S. Customs, according to Mike Franks, CEO of Grow Neosho.

Warren Langland, president of the Neosho Area Business and Industrial Foundation — Grow Neosho — said Friday was a special day for all those who have worked for years toward earning the FTZ designation, and for Neosho and Newton County.

“We’re most successful when our efforts produce results that work for a multitude of industries and companies,” he said. “In short, we like projects that don’t pick winners or losers, rather they produce opportunities for anyone willing to take advantage of them.”

The FTZ designation fits into that category, Langland said. He said the effort was the culmination of years of work, planning and vision on the part of many people.

“Getting the designation is one thing,” he said. “But now the real work begins by finding those industries that need what we have to offer.”

Langland said the effort would not have become reality without the hard work and determination of representatives of the Springfield Foreign Trade Zone.

“We owe them a debt of gratitude for their interest and cooperation and a very sincere thank you,” he said.

Weiler, who in addition to being director of the Springfield-based Southwest Missouri Foreign Trade Zone, is also executive director of the Springfield airport, of which the Neosho location is tied to as a magnet site said the SWMO Foreign Trade Zone represents 23 counties, including Newton County.

He said changes made at the federal level in 2011 helped pave the way for interested communities and businesses like those in Neosho which could get involved as a magnet, or sub-site of the main FTZ location in Springfield.

“From day one Neosho has been the most aggressive part of our 23-county area,” Weiler said. “They expressed strong interest, they were progressive in everything they did and I mean that as a sincere compliment to this area and things started to happen.”

He said Neosho is the first “magnet” site tied to the Springfield FTZ, although there have been specific use-driven sites.

“There were some frustrating times through this process,” he said. “But we never strayed from the goal and we worked together, we saw what needed to be done and it was truly a team effort.”

Weiler said at one time the project was almost denied. U.S. Customs officials were concerned about whether the airport have the ability to adequately support the expansion expected to be tied to the growth expected to happen.

“I really have to give credit to our congressional delegation,” he said. “They were there at the table and got the people in the room that were needed to work through to the compromise that allowed the process to move forward.”

Weiler said his board has been steadfastly committed to boost economic growth on a regional basis.

He said an FTZ can help businesses avoid some of the frustrations of international trade by reducing U.S. Customs delays, and high Customs' duties — or taxes.

“The bottom line is that businesses in the Neosho Industrial Park can now become part of the FTZ Neosho Magnet Site,” Weiler said. “Once they’re part of the FTZ, it’s easier for them to compete with foreign companies — it helps to level the playing field.”

Creation of the Neosho Magnet site was spearheaded by the Neosho Area Business & Industrial Foundation — also known as Grow Neosho. Franks said the culmination of Neosho’s acceptance into the FTZ was a true team effort with a number of players involved over a four-year period.

“The Grow Neosho team is most appreciative of the efforts and support of the Southwest Missouri Foreign Trade Zone., Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Claire McCaskill, Congressman Billy Long, Ky Neuleib, Springfield Port Director for Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Department of Commerce Foreign Trade Zone Board for their consideration and approval of the Neosho FTZ Magnet Site,” said Franks.

Among the local players who have been instrumental in securing the designation according to both Franks and Langland has been former Neosho Mayor Howard Birdsong. They said he has been involved since the beginning of the nearly four-year long process.

Birdsong said the meeting his participation was a labor of love for his community.

“I’ve been involved because of my interest in economic development and to provide a service to the industries and ultimately the entire community of Neosho,” Birdsong said. “This is huge. It’s one of four legs to our effort — the inner-modal project, which is still under development, the work-ready community certification, the Foreign Trade Zone and certainly the TDD — they offer an awful lot of opportunities for economic growth in all facets of our economy. It’s terribly important.”

Franks agreed.

“The Neosho FTZ Magnet Site will serve to level the playing field for U.S. businesses, thereby creating and saving jobs and opportunities in our area,” he said.

Franks said as Grow Neosho moves forward, the magnet site will be a tool in the organization’s economic development tool box.

“We’ll be working with interested local businesses to help them evaluate the potential for the magnet site to support their business initiatives,” said Franks. “Our region is focused on developing the infrastructure needed to create positive economic development.”

Those include railways, roads, broadband internet, workforce development, education, housing along Foreign Trade Zones. which are all tools supporting existing businesses, as well as creating opportunities to attract or form new businesses.

“We work to create opportunity, empower entrepreneurs and produce better jobs for all our citizens,” Franks said.

A ceremony officially announcing the designation was held Friday morning at the Hale McGinty Business Development Center.

Franks said at the city’s business park there are businesses existing which may choose to activate and use the designation.

“There’s also room for development inside the magnet site for people who are already here but who aren’t in the Foreign Trade Zone but see advantages of it so they can locate a business in there and for people who are not from this area but who may choose here,” he said.

Franks said Neosho has a lot of native advantages with its location on I-49, has U.S. 60 going through the middle of town, with I-44 is 15 miles away, on the north edge is the Burlington Northern Railroad and through the heart of the industrial park runs the main line of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

“These are logistical perfection for an area like us and efficiency is what the game is all about now and into the future,” he said. Those assets should provide Neosho with a strong competitive advantage in attracting and growing business and industry.

“Neosho is putting together the package that will make us one of the most efficient places for industry to build manufacturing or distribution,” Franks said.

“We’re having a great day today, we’re going to walk out of here and say hurrah,” he said. “But now the work really begins.”

The next steps will be meetings, putting packages together to allow business and industry to see if the advantages of the FTZ.