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Columbus Leaders Say Rail Upgrade Will Spur Regional Economy

City backers say continued growth of the Central Ohio economy depends, in part, on more exports from area businesses. Now , with help from a Washington think tank and capital improvements by freight railroads the region has a better chance to compete with coastal or Great Lakes cities as an export marketer. When freight trains roll in and out of Columbus now more railcars are likely to be double stacked with large steel containers. It's a recent phenomenon, made possible by the hollowing out of tunnels along rail lines between Columbus and the east coast. Chief Executive Officer of Columbus 2020, Kenny McDonald, says the improvements of rail lines and the larger tunnels had a quick effect. "Almost immediately you started to see what's called the Heartland corridor from Norfolk, Virginia to, Chicago, running straight through Columbus, have double-stacked cars and containers almost be the norm now." For railroads the double-stacked cars are a way to move more auto parts, steel, grain, coal, toys, and apparel products at lower cost. McDonald says railyards at Rickenbacker and on Westbelt Drive have both been upgraded with huge cranes to load and unload the double-stacked cars. McDonald adds the regional economy will also benefit from another large project that will save transportation time. "When the Panama Canal is widened and finished, completed with its expansion in 2014. We think Columbus, Ohio will be one of the two or three biggest winners in the whole effort because we're an equilibrium point between the west coast and the east coast." Says McDonald Even though Columbus is landlocked, The Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C. liberal think tank, says in 2010 Columbus exported nearly eight billion dollars worth of goods and services but it lagged in manufacturing exports. Now, some area manufacturers are looking for more business overseas. A southeast side business sells poultry processing equipment to Brazil, Latin America, and Russia. Columbus Castings Chief Executive Rick Ruebusch says his Parsons Avenue foundry already sells to Kazakhstan, Colombia, and Canada, but the company will add more exports next year. "In August , we're going to be exporting American made rail product to China." Says Ruebusch. Some of the double-stacked rail cars emptied in Columbus will be re-filled with soybeans from area farms. Micah Mork at Gavillon grain near West Jefferson says the bigger containers and the Panama cut-through will make for a shorter trip to Jakarta. "We've got a really good bean program. We've been putting beans in our containers and those have been going for human consumption in Indonesia and those places. So we have a pretty good export program here out of Central Ohio for tofu and the whole nine yards. They eat them and they feed them and they really like the Central Ohio product." Says Mork. Brookings estimates exports from Central Ohio support more than 55-thousand jobs. Business and community advocacy groups say they want more export related jobs, even though the city is landlocked and must depend on roads and rails to get local goods to international sea lanes.