Economic impact of a New Madrid/Memphis Big quake

What would happen to commerce if the big one hit near Memphis?

Phyllis Steckel is a geologist in the St. Louis area who has given tours (helped by federal grants) to representatives of leading businesses from all over the US, to show them what might be disrupted by lack of planning for a major Midwest quake.

Memphis - Commerce Hub

Memphis leads the nation's top 100 cities with the highest percentage of its workforce involved in the logistics industry. Memphis has 32,000 people employed in the warehouse and transportation sector, which ranks sixth nationally in total size. When an additional 37,500 workers in the Memphis wholesale trade sector are added to the mix, the percentage of the overall Memphis labor force raises to 17 percent and the number of logistics workers totals more than 100,000.

  • #1 busiest cargo airport in the world. More than 3.3 million tons were shipped in 2002, the 10th consecutive year Memphis has held the number one position.
  • #3 in Class 1 railroad service in the U.S., approximately 220 freight trains cross through Memphis every day.
  • #3 trucking corridor in the U.S. More than 300 truck lines operate out of Memphis.
  • #4 U.S. inland port. The Port of Memphis handled 16,401,000 tons in 2002.

Memphis has built on its familiar image as ‘America´s Distribution Center´. It has a wholesale distribution industry worth $10,000,000,000 and its international airport is the world´s busiest air cargo port. Eleven companies have their headquarters here, including Gibson Greetings, known as Cleo, which produces a staggering two billion feet of gift-wrap every year.

Memphis also has one of the busiest cement terminals in America, shipping over 400,000 tons of cement each year. The city´s traditional industries still play an important role in its commercial life. Memphis is home to the world´s largest processors of hardwoods and it is still the world´s largest ‘spot´ cotton market, where cotton is traded ‘on the spot´, as it was in the 19th century.

Federal Express, the world´s largest overnight package delivery company, was launched here in 1973 and now employs 30,000 people.’

 Mississippi County, Arkansas, [Blytheville] is home of the Riverport steel mill complex, which is the second largest steel-producing county in the nation. Local industries include Nucor Steel, Nucor-Yamato Steel, Paco Steel, Maverick Tube (2 plants), Coil Tec, Terra International, Milwaukee Tool, Siegel Roberts, NIBCO, American Greetings, Creative Foods LLC, and others.

The local fire department is staffed by volunteers and is not tax-supported: funding for equipment comes from donations, grants, and fund-raisers. There are 3000 residents in the local area, and 5000 employees of the steel-related industries

New highway discussed in Washington

By ANDY ROSS, Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Coahoma County was reportedly well-represented at a lunch meeting Thursday in Washington, where plans for constructing a four-lane highway connecting I-55 at Batesville to I-40 in Brinkley, Ark., were discussed.

The plan, which includes a new bridge over the Mississippi River at Helena, Ark., is being developed and promoted by the Delta Regional Authority. The DRA claims the Batesville to Brinkley connector would have a tremendously positive impact on economic, logistical and security issues not only in the Delta, but throughout the Mid-South region.

Pete Johnson, federal co-chair of the DRA, traveled to Washington this week along with Clarksdale Mayor Henry Espy, Board of Supervisors President Paul Pearson, Sheriff Andrew Thompson Jr. and Ron Hudson, executive director of the Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce.

“We had an outstanding meeting,’ Johnson said. “I am very pleased it was so well-attended by so many important senior staff people.’

Johnson said many of the representatives and senators from Mississippi and other Mid-South states were not able to personally attend the meeting due to the luncheon taking place during the vote on the much debated farm bill.

One of the fundamental reasons behind the plan, according to Johnson, is anticipation of the scenario that could result if an earthquake occurred and caused Mississippi River bridges and interstate connectors in Memphis to be shut down or destroyed.

Lying on the New Madrid fault line, Memphis has increasingly been on the minds of geologists who warn of the high probability a major quake could occur somewhere along the fault in the near future.

According to information from U.S. Geological Survey service, scientists estimate the probability of a magnitude 6 to 7 earthquake occurring in this seismic zone within the next 50 years is higher than 90 percent.

Johnson said given these predictions it is crucial there be an alternative route around Memphis and highlights some statistics on the vital role the city plays in the nations transportation economy.

Johnson pointed out Memphis is the fifth largest inland port in the nation and has three interstates criss-crossing through it, soon to be four when I-22 is completed. He said traffic on the city´s bridges has grown 13 percent in the last ten years and is forecasted to continue experiencing dramatic growth in the future.

“The Mid-South is one of the top logistic centers in the world,’ Johnson said. “It is undisputed that the probability of an earthquake occurring along this fault will increase dramatically in the future. We were there to bring to their attention that this huge economic engine of the Mid-South will be severely crippled by the loss of bridges that cross the Mississippi River.’

Besides pushing for the Batesville to Brinkley connector in relation to security issues, Johnson said there is great economic incentive for the project to happen. If completed, it would allow motorists to complete the trek between Little Rock, Ark., and Atlanta, Ga., on the same major thoroughfare.

While plans for the project are still being developed and studied, Mississippi´s elected officials are reportedly expressing their interest in seeing it come to fruition.

According to Sen. Thad Cochran, “I appreciate the work the Delta Regional Authority has done to craft its Delta Development Highway System plan. The Delta region, which includes a large part of Mississippi, deserves focused federal attention on its infrastructure,’ Cochran said. “Highway 6 serves as an important east-west connector in the Northern part of our state and the heart of the Delta region. I will continue to carefully consider the plans of the Delta Regional Authority as I work with my colleagues to determine our transportation priorities.’

Roger Wicker also said he is aware of the transportation issues facing the Delta in the future.

“We need to be planning ahead to address the transportation needs and challenges facing the Delta,’ Senator Wicker said. “The Batesville-to-Brinkley connector is an example of that planning. The connector, like I-69, has the potential to bring a needed economic shot to the region´s arm.’

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