Work is underway to establish a foreign trade zone in Neosho's industrial park, and on Monday evening, area residents had the chance to learn more about what organizers say is an exciting opportunity for the Neosho area.

Howard Birdsong, a consultant with Birdsong and Associates, said the project started about a year ago and that the application is approximately 60 days away from completion.

The foreign trade zone, or FTZ, would be an area of 250 acres at the Neosho industrial park.

Within the FTZ, duties would not be charged on imported items until they are sent into the U.S. market.

Additionally, if an item is imported into the FTZ, then exported outside of the U.S., no duties would be placed on the items.

"A zone is a place that's designated by the U.S. Department of Commerce as a place where trade is not yet entered into commerce in the U.S.," said Steve Schellenberg, vice president of business development for IMS Worldwide, who have been hired to assist in Neosho's establishment of an FTZ.

Schellenberg said the little increments of cost saving, such as delaying the assessment of duties for a few months, can make a huge difference.

"All the things that I need to do to be competitive, I can do in the zone," Schellenberg said.

Schellenberg said with an FTZ comes the merchandise processing fee, which he said is useful for companies that import a large number of goods.

Each time goods are imported into the country, the company must file an entry, which can add up, he said.

"The more entries you file, the more fees you pay based on the value of the goods that are in that container," Schellenberg said.

However, in an FTZ, there is only a weekly fee, paid to customs, and the fee amount is capped.

"It's a massive amount of opportunity to save money and to grow your competitiveness," he said.

Schellenberg said companies also have the opportunity to self-file their entries, if approved.

The Neosho foreign trade zone, if approved, would be created as a magnet site, under the larger Southwest Missouri Foreign Trade Zone.

Under the larger zone, 23 counties are included and six magnet sites can be established.

Brian Weiler, director of the Southwest Missouri Foreign Trade Zone, said Neosho would become the first magnet site in their area.

"Neosho's been the leader," Weiler said. "They have been the most aggressive area within our 23 county foreign trade zone."

Birdsong said once the draft application is complete, it will go to Weiler's board for approval.

Weiler said the Southwest Missouri FTZ, officially the Foreign Trade Zone No. 225, will work with Neosho in establishing the magnet site.

He said they would ultimately need to review Neosho's application and make a recommendation to their board as to whether or not to support Neosho's application to the federal board.

Weiler said once the magnet site gets formal approval, the Southwest Missouri FTZ would provide ongoing support as the Neosho site gets established.

Weiler said the FTZ is a regional tool that is especially important in today's economy.

"Whatever your politics are, we're in the global economy now and whether or not we're going to be successful really hangs heavily on 'are we going to choose to play in that global economy,'" Weiler said. "Having an FTZ gives us an extra tool to be successful with that."

And not only would an FTZ benefit Neosho, but several in the region, according to Kevin Welch of the Joplin Regional Partnership.

His organization is made up of seven counties, Barton, Newton and Jasper in Missouri, Crawford, Cherokee and Labette in Kansas, and Ottawa in Oklahoma.

Welch said what is an economic benefit to the Neosho area is also a benefit for others in the region.

"Basically, it's one more tool in the toolbox," Welch said.

Birdsong said he believes it is a combination of factors that have led Neosho to the "perfect storm" preparing the city for a foreign trade zone.

Birdsong pointed to the intersection of two interstates, I-49 and I-44, as well as two railways that meet in Neosho, Burlington Northern and Kansas City Southern, with rails going out of Neosho in all four directions. He said the area's trucking industry, the community's work readiness certification, and Camp Crowder's current Joint Land Use Study are all compliments to the project.

"We've got that perfect storm that's brewing," Birdsong said. "We've looked at the highways, we've looked at the railways, and the natural fit was laying in a foreign trade zone."

Birdsong said he believes the establishment of the FTZ can have a trickle down effect on the Neosho community, eventually leading to growth in commercial, retail and housing development.

For more information on the foreign trade zone, contact Kathy Gambill at the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce at 451-1925.

The pursuit of an FTZ in Neosho has been lead by the Neosho Area Business and Industrial Foundation and the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce.