You might say the reason Paducah was selected as the site of the U.S. Maritime Administration's newest Gateway Office came down to one thing: location, location, location.
That's because Paducah's unique position within the inland waterways system was mentioned several times when the Gateway Office announcement was made by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in late August.
It was also mentioned prominently several weeks earlier by David Murray, a senior writer for the Waterways Journal, in a recent feature article.
He wrote, in part: "If the U.S. inland waterways system has a hub, Paducah, Ky., is it. Sitting near the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, just south of the Cumberland River's confluence with the Ohio, and just 50 miles above the confluence with the Mississippi, Paducah truly has 'location, location, location' when it comes to water transportation in particular.
"The region has good connections with all transportation modes. Today, the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority says the region offers access to 60 percent of the U.S. population within a single day's drive ..."
Picking up on that theme, Chao offered: "Paducah has always been a natural hub for inland waterways traffic because of its specific and unique location. It really is Kentucky's crown jewel in terms of maritime importance.
"And, today it is a major site for dry dock facilities as well," she continued. "The Paducah-McCracken Riverport is a multi-modal center with waterway, rail and road connections. As a result, Paducah has become the headquarters of important barge line companies and home to more U.S.-flag inland waterway operators than anywhere else in our country."
The secretary also praised the prominent role Paducah plays in offering training to the maritime industry, citing the examples of Seaman's Church Institute and West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Inland Logistics and Marine Institute.
She also noted Paducah's selection as the site of the national Gateway convention this year as a recognition and acknowledgement of the city's importance to the inland waterways system.
"With the level of maritime activity ... it just made sense to establish a Maritime Administration Gateway Office here in Paducah," she said.
Gateway offices provide a wide range of customer service to the maritime industry, according to Chao, and promote collaboration between federal, state, local and private partners on the challenges facing the transportation sector in their respective areas.
Paducah will be one of 10 Gateway offices in the U.S., located on the West, East and Gulf coasts as well as the Great Lakes and inland waterways. The exact location for the office is still being finalized.
Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, the head of the Maritime Administration (MARAD), called Paducah a model when it comes to the local government's collaboration with the maritime industry.
"As a nation we have no alternative but to develop, grow and modernize our ports and inland waterway system," Buzby said. "The tug and barge industry will be challenged to carry an even larger part of the national freight load in the coming years. It's the last mode that has capacity left.
"If you think of our roads and our rail system nearly at capacity now, and if you look at projections of the amount of freight, the population grown of our country and the among of freight that's going to generate, all that freight has to move someplace," he said.
Matt Ricketts, president/CEO of Crounse Corporation, offered some remarks on behalf of representatives of the local river industry.
"There's a lot of marine companies located here, and we're proud of that," he said. "Every day, if you come down to the riverfront you can see towboats and barges moving over 600 million tons of product annually. Coal, steel, cement, grain, chemicals, nation-building commodities, that's what they are.
"Some are bound for destinations within the U.S., a good bit of it is bound for coastal ports, and to other nations, so it really is global commerce," he said.
"Efficient transportation is the foundation of our country, and it's also the future of our country. Our inland marine system, although sometimes out of sight and maybe out of mind, generates economic activity for the country and helps sustain more than a half-million jobs and it's exciting to be a part of it."
According to Chao, many cities were evaluated as potential locations for the Gateway Office.
"They were considered based on their location, maritime community, cost of living, access to industry, and many other factors," the secretary said. "And I think you should be so proud that Paducah won the competition fair and square."
According to Sandra Wilson, president of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, one of the meetings local officials had during the organization's September "D.C. Fly-In" was with representatives of the Maritime Administration.
The decision process for selecting Paducah as a Gateway Office location was discussed, she said.
"They closed one (Gateway Office) on the West Coast, and they knew they wanted one on the inland waterway," Wilson said. "So, when they did that they narrowed it to 23 states. And, when they started looking at it, they knew they wanted it be on a designated Marine Highway (which Paducah is).
"They wanted it to be, if they could, separate from the St. Louis office but one that could complement the St. Louis office," she said. "So obviously we're just a couple of hours away. They wanted it to fill a gap in reaching inland waterways operators, and that was us."
There were other considerations, such as selecting a community that had knowledge of Washington and an awareness of how the federal government works, and one that would be "a welcoming maritime community," Wilson said.
"We found out we were competing against several other really nice cities in our area, like Louisville, Memphis and Evansville (Indiana), and we still came out on top. I think the fact that we won out is a really big deal," she said.
"It will be a great resource for our community to have it here."
Staff writer Derek Operle contributed to this story.