State and Salt Lake County economic development officials want the Utah Legislature to ante up $150,000 to help establish an intermountain port authority they say could benefit the entire state.
The county established an inland port authority earlier this year, but a government-commissioned study indicates its potential benefits would spill beyond the confines of Salt Lake County.The port authority's charge is to promote import and export activity throughout Utah, making it the hub for foreign trade in the Intermountain area.
While the word port implies a specific location, a physical site has not yet been chosen. The port authority would enable Utah businesses to negotiate more competitive shipping rates and enable farmers, ranchers and manufacturers to consolidate shipping containers to further cut costs regardless of their location in the state.
Establishing hub ports inland helps draw congestion away from coastal ports. Rather than unpack foreign shipping containers in San Francisco before transporting the goods inland, containers could be transported to Salt Lake City before they are processed by the Customs Service.
The authority also could market Salt Lake City as a place to bring goods to be processed by customs and then shipped directly to Europe or the Pacific Rim.
In addition to the state's financial contribution, economic development officials also want legislation to establish the port authority on a statewide basis.
Lynn Blake, co-director of the Utah Division of Economic Development, said other Utah communities have considered establishing inland ports on their own but a unified port would have more clout in negotiating shipping fares and would serve as a centralized shipping point where shipments could be compacted and small exporters could combine their shipments.
The group also is contacting business and other governmental agencies for funds for the program. "We've talked to them. They're very interested. They're telling us, `We've wanted to do this on our own,' " he said.
Salt Lake County has committed $300,000 to the port authority in its preliminary budget.
The port authority should be self-supporting within five years, according to a business plan developed by the consulting firm of Leeper, Cambridge & Campbell, Inc.
Joedy Cambridge, executive vice president of the firm, said membership and service fees and facility revenues would eventually support the entity.