CAIRO — A fresh infusion of hope came with the new year for the Cairo Port project in the form of a sizable donation from the Rauner Family Foundation.
In a news release from Cairo Public Utility on Wednesday, it was announced that Gov. Bruce Rauner and wife Diana Rauner’s foundation would be donating $100,000 to the project. Larry Klein, chairman of the Port District and general manager of CPU, said in the release this donation will allow them to drum up interest from shipping companies.
“This donation will give us the ability to create marketing materials and begin calling on companies in the next few months to secure their genuine interest in the Cairo Port,” Klein said in the release.
He also said that as more companies express interest in the port, which would be built on 160 acres along the Mississippi River-side of the city, it will open up more funding opportunities in 2018 and beyond.
State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, was also enthusiastic.
"The contribution from the Rauner Family Foundation is providing us with a great platform to move forward with our efforts to make this river port a reality for the people and communities of Southern Illinois," Fowler said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
According to the news release, The Port District has plans to start meeting with companies in the Midwest and Canada, targeting industries that currently use the river waterways and rail to move bulk products through the Gulf of Mexico — of specific interest are companies shipping seed grains, fertilizer, potash, coal and other, similar products.
There has been a lot of support for the project both from Washington and Springfield, not to mention in Alexander County. However in May, Fowler told the paper there was a need for about $1 million in “soft money” to pay for legal fees, permits and surveys before any real development could start.
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On a visit to Cairo in May, Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill said the DRA valued the project and could jump in at any point in its development, but said that soft money was needed before they could make any commitments.
In his email Wednesday, Fowler said through an aide that the donation would chip away at these costs.
Fowler has made Cairo a priority for his first term and is enthusiastic about what the port could mean for not just Cairo but the region.
"Downstate Illinois has such potential and so much to offer. I’m encouraged that we are gaining momentum on this project, taking steps toward revitalizing the region and placing Cairo and the surrounding communities on the road to recovery and economic growth," Fowler said.
He’s not alone.
“We’re a great state with great resources and even better people. We need to seize the opportunities to attract new jobs and businesses to Illinois,” Rauner said in the news release. “This is an investment in the future of southern Illinois and the state as a whole.”
“This Port will not only benefit Cairo and Alexander County, but it will help all of deep Southern Illinois prosper in the future by making it easier for farmers, mining companies and Industrial firms to get their products to market more efficiently and cost effectively than they do now,” Klein said in the press release.