Temporary reprieve or no, the battle to keep the Dalton Avenue postal center open is an issue for workers, small businesses and the city's Fortune 500 companies.

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Postal Service delayed budget decisions that would have resulted in closing the nearly 70-year-old postal processing and distribution center with 1,200 full-time workers who sort the mail there. Originally one of 250 large sorting centers, the postal service had planned to start shutting down by March, but the service put off decisions on closures until mid-May.

With the postal service hoping to cut its overhead by more than $3 billion, the future for the Queensgate center still looks bleak, but local government leaders and businesses aren't ready to give up without a fight.

With good reason: Not only are the jobs of nearly 1,800 full- and part-time postal employees at stake, the ripple effects of the closure could be devastating to Cincinnati's economy, say local opponents to the plan.

"We have to make it our top priority. People don't fully understand that (the center) is an anchor to other businesses in the area," says Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn.

Winburn, chair of council's Job Creation Committee, hasn't minced words. "We're not only talking about 2,000 jobs there, we're talking about $2 million in tax revenues for the city, we're talking about $3 million in state revenue, we're talking about other businesses that employ thousands of other people."

Last September, the postal service notified its employees via letter that it was looking into consolidating operations at its largest centers, closing 250 along with 3,700 smaller post offices nationwide. Shortly afterward, it was clear that the Queensgate center was in danger. Citing the aging four-story building as a primary concern, the postal service was considering relocating Cincinnati operations to other, more modern, single-level facilities in Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville "” a move it said would save more than $54 million annually. That projection was later trimmed to $38 million.

Michael Funk, president of the local American Postal Workers Union, disputes those projected savings. Closing the center, he adds, would be not only a bad business decision for the postal service, but would have "major, major impact on Cincinnati and the whole area." Instead of saving costs, he says, it will have the reverse effect. Along the way, it would damage service, hurt local businesses and pull millions of dollars from the local economy.

Instead of next-day service from, say, Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati, mail would be channeled to a postal center in the sender's state, then to the postal center in the recipient's state before finding its way to its destination. A letter mailed just over the river could take a trip of hundreds of miles.

"If you send something from Northern Kentucky to 10 miles away Cincinnati, that piece of mail will have to go to Louisville first, then Columbus before it gets back to Cincinnati three or four days later," instead of the next day, says Funk. "Service is going [to] degrade terribly. Then, you factor in all those added transportation costs, it's not going to save money. It's going to cost the Postal Service hundreds of millions of dollars every year."

The effect on the local economy would be more adverse, he adds. Initially, there's the impact of the loss of postal jobs and salaries.

"It would be devastating," Funk says. "We're talking about yanking $100 million of first-hand income out of the area.

"Those dollars get turned over several times before they leave the region, adding more than $2 million in city payroll taxes and county taxes to the local economy, not to mention the money that's spent at local businesses. The economic impact would be huge."

More far-reaching, though, would be the damage to the bottom line for local companies, including 10 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Cincinnati and a myriad of other firms that depend on the center for mailing bulk correspondence and delivering their product.

If the center does close, those companies could be forced, at greater expense, to ship their mail to an out-of-town postal center or suffer long delays in delivery. Both could hurt financially, snaring the attention of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, one proponent of keeping the center intact.

"Our members rely on the USPS for quick and reliable service," says chamber spokesman Chris Kemper.

"We're concerned about the negative effect the closing would create, and we hope they would take local businesses into account before they make their decision."

The closing would leave Cincinnati, the country's 24th largest metropolitan district, as the largest in the nation without one of the more than 200 remaining postal centers.

"We believe, with the size and scope of the region, the center should remain open," says Kemper.

That sentiment was echoed recently in letters from Ohio lawmakers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, along with Rep. Steve Chabot and Rep. Jean Schmidt, wrote Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahue in October, asking him to consider the economic impact before closing the center.

"Southwest Ohio is an important region of commerce, home to many Fortune 500 companies "” all of whom rely on expedient postal services. Any degradation of service caused by facility closures could create serious problems for businesses," reads the letter. State lawmakers added their own missive, stating the closure would be "devastating to an already financially vulnerable" area.

Pondering the Future

Meanwhile, companies are left to ponder the future.

Western & Southern Financial Group, one of the area's Fortune 500 companies, is one of the area's heaviest postal center customers. In an e-mail, the financial giant says it has a "very good working relationship with the United States Postal Service."

Still, "Cincinnati has more people, more businesses and, therefore, more mail going through the local processing center than Columbus, Indianapolis or Louisville, where mail currently processed in Cincinnati might go."

While W&S hopes the process center remains open, it is in "continuous discussions" with the postal service and it expects to be fully prepared for whatever decision the postal service makes. Smaller firms may not have the same flexibility.

Mike Berning, president of Jos. Berning Printing, says closure could do irreparable damage to a number of closeby printing companies and mailing houses. His company, which has been in the family for five generations, moved to Dalton Avenue in 1982 to be close to the center, which it uses daily.

"A lot of printers did the same, making Queensgate the sort of mecca of Cincinnati printing," he says. "Closing the center means we'd have to truck our product to other cities, add delays on deliveries and add to the expense of things we print. It would be horrible for us." The ramifications could be dire, he adds.

"It may or may not cost us jobs, but for some of the larger printing companies and mailing houses, I don't see how it won't," Berning explains. "[Berning Printing] has been here 30 years, but if the center closes we may have to look at moving because this location just won't be advantageous anymore. That would be a shame."

Allen Teetz, with the family-owned Reliable Letter & Bulk Mail Service, says it would be hard on small businesses.

"There's a discount associated with working directly with a sorting center," he says. "If the center closes, we lose that. That's going to affect larger businesses to some extent, but it will hit small businesses like ours even harder."

Though the center's chances at survival remain seemingly bleak, Funk vows to continue the fight. "People may say 'OK, here's a union president wh'™s just concerned about postal worker jobs,' but this is bigger," says Funk, pointing out the union just signed a five-year contract in 2010 which will protect its members. "...but local business is going to be hit hard, and the local economy is going to suffer. If we stay quiet about it, this is going to slip by. The postal service will close the center, and the damage will be done." â–