Rosedale — The Mississippi River port here is an economic development jewel, an example of how the combination of local vision and federal funding can produce real results, said port engineer Charles Dean.
“The politicians like this project because it’s worked,” said Dean, an original proponent of the project. He helped convince politicians and business leaders of the port’s potential 25 years ago. “It’s the kind of thing the federal government can and should do. It’s been a plus for this whole region.”
Today, the Port of Rosedale is one of the most successful of the state’s 15 ports, growing at a rate of more than 50% nearly every year this decade. Total tonnage in 1997 reached over 600,000, a record year for the port, said port director David Work. He added that that figure is significantly beyond what a U.S. Corp of Engineers’ study predicted the port would manage.
In fact, the study never thought it would reach that level.
By the year 2027 the report predicted the Port of Rosedale would handle 396,000 tons, said Work, reaching into a desk drawer and pulling out the well-worn study.
“So, as you can see, it’s done better than anyone predicted,” said Work, the port’s first and only director who arrived just days after construction began in the summer of 1977.
Said Dean: “The port has had quite a history of growth. It has been one of the most successful inland ports in the country.”
But not surprisingly not everybody leaped at the project when it was first proposed 30 years ago, Dean said.
In fact, a study commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce in the late 1960s said the idea of a port was so ridiculous that it was shelved, Dean said.
Constructed on a slough, or oxbow lake, off the Mississippi River on heavily wooded land, Dean said the task of engineering the project was complex.
“It was unique,” he said. “But everything we seem to do here in the Delta is unique.”
Although not the easiest site to locate a port, it has proved to be one of the most advantageous, Work said.
Although they didn’t realize it at the time, Work said the port’s success can be credited to its location capitalizing on the barge traffic moving along the White River from Oklahoma through Arkansas with its terminus just 15 miles from the port.
“If you need it in two to three days, we can’t do that. But if you don’t need it tomorrow, barge is still the best way to go,” said Joe Jannus, one of three brothers who run Jantran, a towboat operation, from the port.
Originally started as a builder of tows and tugs when the port opened in 1981, the company switched gears when that business went south and began capitalizing on moving commerce along the Arkansas river system. Today, at any one time, Jantran is moving around 150 barges with products ranging from molasses and salt from Louisiana to oats from Ireland.
Leaving the offices of Jantran, Work said he and Jannus often look back with wonderment at how the port has developed.
“One day John came in and we were talking and he said can you imagine all of the going on and this going and this going on,” Work said, pointing to various projects and improvements at the port. Then he stopped. A big grin spread across his face. “And all of its come true.”
But perseverance prevailed, and by the time a $4 million general obligation bond was needed for construction, Dean said most were convinced the port was possible.
“It had very little resistance,” Dean said.
The county would ultimately put up another $1.5 million for various projects, but federal and state funds have added significantly to the port’s infrastructure and amenities.
Most recently the port completed a $2.4-million project to expand the marketable industrial land that included pumping two million yards of sand out of the Mississippi River to create an additional 68 acres of property with water access.
For some, having a location right on the water is important enough to pay the $5,000 an acre lease that the property will command. Other, undeveloped acreage in the park, leases for $2,000 per acre, Work said.
All together, the Rosedale-Bolivar County Port of Rosedale has just over 1,200 acres with only a fraction of that actually used by industry.
Located within the port’s industrial park is Cives Steel Company, a metal fabricator, Jimmy Sanders Inc., a grain and fertilizer transfer and storage concern and Jantran, a river towing operation. Most recently, APAC began construction on a new multi-million facility to receive and process materials for road construction.
With the exception of APAC, the port hasn’t located a new company in over a decade but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had an impact, Work said.
All together, Work estimated the port has helped add well over $50 million to the county tax rolls thanks to new and expanded industry, and directly and indirectly has created nearly 1,700 jobs.
While those industries that are located there have continued to expand (most recently Sanders added four new grain bins), the port also has been a major resource for industries as far away as Cleveland who regularly use raw materials shipped to the port, Work said.
A shining example of that is Duo-Fast in Cleveland which receives nearly 50 tons a year of coil rod steel from Texas and New Jersey through the port which is used to make industrial grade nails and staples.
Once dependent on rail to receive its raw materials, Work said the company became disillusioned with that mode of transportation and now gets nearly all of its raw materials by barge.
Sam Armstrong, a buyer in the purchasing department at Duo-Fast, said it simply makes good business sense to use barge.
“The way I understand it is a more economical way of bringing this product in. Rail didn’t work too well,” he said.
A lot of people have come to depend on barge to transport their raw materials, Work said. When one considers that one 1,500 ton barge can carry the equivalent of 20 trucks, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that barge can be the way to do business. But it’s not for everybody, he admits.
“It’s got to be adaptable to your system. Not everybody can use 1,400 tons of steel. For some that is a year’s supply,” he said.