September 30, 2014

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Lorain a busy port?

Mayor thinks firm will spur trade, jobs

LORAIN — Mayor John Romoser wants to turn over operations of the city’s port to a Northwest Ohio-based company focused on bringing international trade to the area.

Romoser has been in talks with the company, Midwest Terminals of Toledo International, for about a week to determine whether they could work together to return Lorain to a port city, which has been one of his goals since replacing former Mayor Craig Foltin in August.

Alex Johnson, president of Midwest Terminals, said the company would set up a base of operations somewhere along Lorain’s port and connect area businesses with foreign markets. The company would assist those companies in shipping their goods for a fee, he said.

Johnson called the goods that would be shipped “general cargo,” which could include raw goods such as limestone, iron ore and bundles of lumber.

Companies will be interested because it’s cheaper to ship directly from Lorain to Europe compared with taking goods by truck or train to New York City or Baltimore and shipping from there, he said. It’s also cheaper to send goods to Chicago from Europe by sailing into Lorain, then taking a truck, he said.

As payment for using the port, Midwest Terminals would likely pay rent to the city based on the tonnage shipped into the port during a given period of time, which is similar to the deal worked out between the company and Toledo, Johnson said.

But more importantly for Lorain, businesses hoping to tap into the foreign trade market would flock to the city, potentially creating hundreds of jobs, Romoser said.

“The point of this is to create jobs and create opportunities,” Romoser said. “This is exactly where we want to be. Jobs are the crux of the problems in Lorain, and that of course breeds other problems.”

Plans are very preliminary, Romoser said, and he has not even discussed them with the Lorain Port Authority or City Council, which would need to approve any such measure. He said he would still want the Port Authority, which owns a portion of the port land, to have a role in assisting with the operation.

The Republican Romoser, who was appointed to fill the remaining term of former Mayor Craig Foltin, is up for election next Tuesday, so he might not be around to see his plans through. Democratic Lorain Councilman Tony Krasienko and Independent Paula Tobias are his challengers.

Officials from Midwest Terminals said they’d be willing to work with Romoser or his successor.

On Monday, Romoser hosted a press conference to discuss the plans, which was attended by Johnson; Fred Deichert, chief financial officer for Midwest Terminals; Dick Gabel, vice president of the International Longshoremen’s Association and local businessman Richard Konik, an adviser to Romoser.

Lorain is an attractive spot for such an endeavor, Johnson said, because it is in the unique position of having about 100 acres of undeveloped, waterfront land.

Romoser said there are several spots along the port where the company could move, including the pellet terminal site, which is owned by the city. The company would need about 30 acres.

That might cause a problem for Council, which already has invested time and money into designing its own plans for the port. Earlier this year, the city and Port Authority hired Dallas-based real estate marketing firm, Staubach Co., to market the port.

Councilman Dan Given, D-at large, said he does not expect Council to act hastily on Romoser’s idea, but it will consider it along with whatever Staubach comes up with.

“We will weigh them both, but we’re obligated to come up with the best proposal that we can take to residents,” he said. “I’m sure what the mayor brought forward is in the best interest to the city of Lorain, but we’re definitely going to dissect both proposals and take our time.”

But Romoser said Council is taking too long to develop the port.

“Port activity should have come to fruition a long time ago,” he said. “I know there are problems, but it should be much further along.”

Contact Adam Wright at (440) 653-6257 or awright@chroniclet.com.