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The Associated Press September 19, 2011, 8:31PM ET

Mo. businesses urge St. Louis cargo incentives

Some of Missouri's business and political leaders sought to rally support Monday for millions of dollars of proposed tax breaks promoted as a way of transforming the underused Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in a bustling hub for international cargo flights.

The testimony before the House Economic Development Committee came just days after the Senate approved a plan authorizing up to $60 million of tax credits for companies that coordinate exports through St. Louis airport but deleted an additional $300 million of earmarked tax breaks for warehouses and manufacturers that would handle those products. Senators said those businesses could still apply for incentives through other state programs.

The House committee could restore the broader package of so-called Aerotropolis tax breaks when it is scheduled to vote on its own version of the legislation Tuesday.

Among the first testifying for the bill Monday were St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and executives from a pair of Missouri companies who said the incentives could allow them to shift more of their exports away from airports in other states to the St. Louis airport. Although expressing general support for the air cargo incentives, they didn't delve too deeply into the specific dollar-amount of tax credits they believed would be necessary.

Even without incentives, a cargo flight from China is scheduled to land Friday at the airport, Slay said.

But "one flight does not make a hub," Slay said. "We want 20 or 30 flights a week," which he said is possible only if Missouri offers incentives to build the facilities needed to handle the products.

Slay's testimony Monday was sandwiched around that of Tony Clayton, the president of Jefferson City-based Clayton Agri-Marketing Inc., and Eric Green, vice president and managing director of international sales at St. Louis-based Sigma-Aldrich. Clayton said he ships pigs internationally about once every 11 days out of an airport in Chicago. If incentives help build up a cargo hub in St. Louis, it could be more convenient for his business because one of his largest suppliers of pigs is located in Illinois about 40 miles south of St. Louis, Clayton said. Green said Sigma-Aldrich, which produces chemical products used in scientific research, would like to consolidate its international shipping in St. Louis if the proposed incentives help it become cost-competitive to do so.

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