Fiscal Focus
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Fiscal Focus



Photo taken Nov. 2021 in Cairo, where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge. Credit: Erik Unger/IOC

With the AFL-CIO, State officials and the Alexander-Cairo Port Authority signing a labor agreement in 2021, the Cairo river-port development is set to become a reality after about 10 years of negotiations.

Thanks in part to $40 million in state funds from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan, a groundbreaking on the site is slated for late 2022. Private investors are expected to contribute an estimated $300 million to the development.

“This investment is potentially the largest economic development project in over a century to the Southern Illinois region,” said State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg. “It is great to see this area finally get the tools it needs, in an economically depressed region, to grow and create new jobs that could one day serve as the nation’s hub for river transportation.”

The project — a partnership between public and private parties — is shepherded by the Alexander-Cairo Port Authority, a board comprised of Alexander County officials and representatives of the city of Cairo as well as the Cairo Public Utility Company.

“This project connects several modes of transportation including container services that will allow a diverse set of goods to be shipped straight to the gulf, lock-free,” said Sen. Fowler.

The following details appear in the port authority development plan:

  • 80% of all inland barge traffic passes the port site.
  • More than 60% of the U.S. population lies within an 8-hour drive of the port site.
  • The port site is connected by rail, three major interstates and a regional airport.
  • The lower Mississippi River carries up to 60% of total U.S. corn exports and as much as 45% of total U.S. soybean exports.
  • Cairo is a local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, providing opportunities for financing with local tax abatement incentives.

The Cairo river-port development has bipartisan support. The project will help spur economic development in Southern Illinois, while creating good-paying union jobs and bringing international business to the state.

State officials hosted Taiwanese business and government representatives in November 2021 to witness the progress being made. This signifies continuing international partnerships that can help spur development in Southern Illinois and other parts of the state.

“This is not just about farm products and Southern Illinois, but this is about marketing Illinois products across the world,” State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, said in an article in The Southern Illinoisan newspaper about the trip.

Credit: Erik Unger/IOC

With an ongoing lack of economic drivers in communities like Cairo, jobs for building and sustaining this new state-of-the-art international port will have a long-term impact on the region. The labor agreement signed will ensure that no less than 500 construction jobs in the next phase are filled by local union workers. The overall effort is poised to be an economic driver for Southern Illinois.

Comptroller Mendoza has made it a priority to expedite funds associated with the port project and is a strong proponent of the development.

“Cairo has a special place in my heart,” Comptroller Mendoza told WSIU public radio. “And I kind of think of Cairo, like in the movie Cars — Radiator Springs — and how it used to be great and then they cut the road off and it completely became dilapidated and forgotten.”

“We could be like Lightning McQueen and bring it back,” she said, noting the importance of bipartisan support behind redeveloping the area. “I get excited about thinking about what the possibilities are of Cairo. I’m not going to allow myself to get depressed about what has happened to Cairo. We can fix that. And it’s up to us.”

The Alexander-Cairo Port Authority has also made the case that, as a relatively low-carbon part of the supply chain, the project has environmental benefits as well. Officials cited a Texas Transportation Institute study that found inland barge transportation emitted significantly less carbon dioxide than truck or rail transportation.

The project has become a beacon for Southern Illinois and testament as to what can happen when leaders work together with business to build bridges and spur growth while protecting union workers’ access to good jobs in the communities they call home. The development is expected to be operational by 2024. ■

This publication is designed to provide fiscal information of general interest. Fiscal Focus is published by the office of Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza, 201 Statehouse, Springfield IL 62706. Questions or comments may be directed to 217-782-6000.

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The official account for Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza. Follow us for office services and #ILbudget updates.

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