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Free Shipping isn't Free

I was fortunate this past weekend to receive a tour of many different facilities along my city's riverfront. I was able to see and learn about the municipal water plant, a nature preserve near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, a fertilizer distribution warehouse and one of the 27 locks and dams that help control the flow and level of the Mississippi between Granite City and the earliest stages in Minnesota.

One thing I've spent much of the past several months working on during my day job is transitioning my employer's marketing language from statements about services being free for clients to stating those that are made available "at no cost to you". Just like we have heard time and again, "there's no such thing as a free lunch", we're working to drive home that what our customer is receiving for free, has a cost, but we're not charging them for it.

While on the tour on Friday, I learned about the billions of dollars worth of commerce that move up and down the river and the tens of thousands of jobs tied to the industry of transporting it. The river I have lived near much of my life was a silent force in terms of the regional impact it has.

But what really jumped out at me was a couple of statistics on the value of transporting by barge. When I've historically thought of a barge or ocean-liner, ideas that come to mind are: outmoded and slow. It conjures up my impatience of wanting to get something faster. What's interesting to learn is the benefit of taking the time to ship along waterways vs. rail, truck and air. The National Waterways Foundation made a few statistics available to us. By the way, they don't even list air transport because its by far the least fuel efficient.

In addition to fuel efficiency, another image was painted during the tour. When you're driving down local roads or along interstate, do you get scared/frustrated by the number of trucks crowding the streets? A great solution to reduce that is to ship more by water. Because for every 15-barge tow that goes up the river, that's the equivalent of more than 1,000 trucks that we can keep off the roads and from wearing down our roadways.

When I think back on my time on Friday and what I learned, two takeaways come to mind. Our city benefits far more from the river than I knew. I took it for granted. The second thing is, the more patient we can be when needing something, if we can really plan ahead, we can help keep the cost of our what we want to buy low and lessen the environmental impact by doing it more fuel efficiently and uncrowding our roads. Its good for me to keep in mind that free shipping isn't free. The sooner I need something, the more fuel that is being expended to bring it to me.

I feel the term "river town" comes with baggage. Despite having spent much of my life talking about the natural borders it creates and the geographical novelty of being where the Missouri and Mississippi come together, it wasn't a point of honor. On Friday, I moved closer to taking ownership and pride in how fortunate we are to have them.

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