Tipping Point: Better transportation will put unemployed to work - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Tipping Point: Better transportation will put unemployed to work

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Raw materials, finished goods and access to talented people are in demand everywhere. Our economy was made to meet the demand. Shipping ports, freight trains, trucks, warehouses, cargo and passenger flights - they're all connected to each other and to the global economy.

O'Hare International Airport was the second busiest airport in the world in 2013, with 67 million passengers and 1.4 million tons of cargo passing through. Fifty percent of all U.S. train freight passes through Chicago rail yards.

Chicago's ability to move people and products efficiently to and from the city and the state will determine its ability to move our jobs and economy into the future. Transportation means business.

Soybeans bound for South Korea filled one tractor trailer, as another delivered additional beans to one of The DeLong Company's grain elevators, just across the Wisconsin border in Clinton.

William "Bo" DeLong's family-owned company sold $1.5 billion worth of grain to Asia last year, most of it routed through Chicago. The vice president is desperate to hire dozens of new truck drivers right now, needing far more than the 120 he already employs.

"We could use probably 50% more," DeLong told FOX 32 News. "It's difficult right now. It's very difficult."

It may be hard to believe, given Illinois's worst-in-the-Midwest unemployment rate. But all sorts of companies focused on transportation in the state report they are scrambling to find qualified workers.

Load Delivered Logistics CEO Robert Nathan needs to hire 40 employees at the headquarters in downtown Chicago.

"We have six of the Class 1 railroads that are all here," Nathan said. "We have one of the largest airports in the world. Why aren't they teaching supply chain and transportation jobs?"

Nathan knows the City Colleges of Chicago and other local schools are finally moving to do that. In the meantime, his logistics company - recognized as one of America's fastest-growing for several years now - provides its own training to recruits like 23-year-old Adam Pines.

Pines studied psychology at the University of Indiana. He tripled his starting salary in just 18 months. He has also seen first-hand why 155,000 in Illinois work in jobs related to transportation and warehousing.

"There are thousands of trucking companies, truck drivers, dispatchers, terminals in Chicago," Pines told FOX 32. "Chicago is absolutely the center of all of the freight circulation… in the country."

That's plain to see in Elwood, Ill., where state-of-the-art and astoundingly vast railroad and trucking yards are expanding across of the grounds of the old Joliet arsenal. The U.S. Army used to make bombs in Logistics Park Chicago, BNSF Railroad's intermodal facility.

BNSF Railroad alone brings almost one million shipping containers to Elwood each year. Virtually every one of them carries goods manufactured in Asia, mostly in China. They enter America through docks in California and are brought to Will County by train.

There are thousands of workers and giant distribution centers nearby. Retailers including Home Depot and Dollar General transfer imported TVs, auto parts and clothing to trucks for delivery to dozens of states. The Walmart Center in Elwood reportedly handles 70 percent of all of Walmart's foreign imports.

After the shipping containers are unloaded, they become moneymakers for Midwest farmers. Corn, soybeans and other grain are packed in to go back to Asia.

Steven Ament grows specialty soybeans that command a premium price in South Korea, whose government even sends an inspector to test them. One inspector told FOX 32 the product is excellent – of good quality for food consumption in Korea.

That worldwide reputation for Midwestern excellence helped Bo DeLong sell about $1.5 billion worth of farm products last year to China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other Asian destinations. Most went through Will County's Logistics Park Chicago. It's an export-oriented boom!

"There's, I would say, 20 times more jobs in the Chicago area, in this sector, than there was ten years ago," DeLong said.

That dramatic growth continues. But chronic congestion on our roads threatens to choke it off, by slowing down the trucks that carry commerce.

Places like Kansas City and Omaha are growing as well. They're trying to steal some of our business. They have less traffic.

One study estimates that speeding up travel times for freight and commuters would stimulate more than 80,000 new jobs across the region, and especially in America's fastest-growing downtown Chicago.

"The ecosystem that we've built here in Chicago - or people way before me have built - we're trying to just take it to the next level," Nathan said.

Local businesses rely on attracting workers from near and far. They rely on employees being able to get to their jobs without huge hassle. Less congestion means more growth.

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