ROCHELLE – Ho-Young Ahn, South Korea's ambassador to the United States, wanted to learn more about trade. So he went to a place where products leave by rail, eventually ending up overseas.
He dropped by Union Pacific's Global III Intermodal Facility on Tuesday morning, escorted by former U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan, and greeted by local dignitaries. It was part of a tour of northern Illinois.
Ahn said he wanted to see how products are shipped off to South Korea, the world's 11th biggest economy. It also helped that Manzullo, now president of the Korea Economic Institute of America, used to represent Rochelle and much of northwestern Illinois.
"Koreans and Illinoisans put much value on innovation and entrepreneurship," Ahn said during a brief news conference. "I want to see how we can benefit each other.”
The facility, which opened in 2003, is far from reaching its capacity, according to the company.
Union Pacific executives explained their operation to the ambassador and gave him a tour.
At the facility, trucks deposit their goods for export – 90 percent of which is grain, executives said. The freight goes to the West Coast ports of Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash., much of it ending up in Asian markets.
Ahn said South Korea grows about 30 percent of its grain and gets the rest from a number of countries. Twenty-percent of the country's grain comes from the United States, he said.
The use of trains, Ahn said, is a win-win commercially and environmentally.
When Ahn arrived at the facility, he met 15-year-old Sumin Oh, a South Korean foreign exchange student at Rochelle High School, and her host family. She shook his hand, and they spoke to each other in their native language.
Manzullo told reporters that he had invited Ahn to Illinois.
"You can talk all you want about the cooperation between our two countries," he said, "but there's nothing like seeing it with your two eyes."
Jason Anderson, Rochelle's economic development director, said the ambassador told him he wanted to know more about the facility.
"I have a feeling we'll hear from him again," Anderson said. "He was sincere about it."