LaGrange looks to future, cites recovery milestones in annual address

By: | at 07:00 PM | Maritime  

Port activity reaches 100% of pre-Katrina levels ahead of schedule

In a speech originally scheduled for September of 2005, Port of New Orleans President and CEO Gary LaGrange recently outlined hurricane recovery milestones and spoke of the future of shipping and cruising in the Crescent City during his annual State of the Port Address at a luncheon hosted by the World Trade Club of Greater New Orleans at the Plimsoll Club.

In a theme repeated throughout his speech, LaGrange reiterated, ‘It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.’

LaGrange cited the port’s recovery process and its milestones along the way before announcing Port activity has reached 100 percent of pre-Katrina levels ahead of his own aggressive six-month schedule.

‘With only the upriver portion of our facilities operational ’ which constitutes 70% of the port ’ we now have achieved 100% of our pre-Katrina activity in the last two weeks!’ he said.

LaGrange said 30 general cargo ships, including 10 container vessels, were scheduled to call on the port’s public facilities the week he gave the speech (Feb. 15).

‘In all of 2004, those facilities averaged right at 20 ships per week ’ so with a little luck and a lot of hard work ’ we’re hoping to sustain this activity, grow our ship calls further and lead the recover for the entire New Orleans region,’ LaGrange said.

While the current numbers are strong, LaGrange said general cargo activity is down about 20% for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. LaGrange said cargo was down on initial ships entering the Port and shipping officials had to regain confidence in a city after watching countless images of flooding and devastation.

‘But every successful shipment of cargo reinforces what we have been saying all along to the shipping community, ‘We are open for business!’ LaGrange said.

Due to backlogs and interruptions in data processing, port officials were unable to breakdown individual commodity figures for the 2005 calendar year. However, November-to-November comparisons reflect imports were down 29% and exports slipped 16.7%, reflecting little activity in September and October.

LaGrange also stressed an economic impact study completed just three days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The firm Martin Associates found the number of jobs the Port provided statewide grew to 160,498 in 2004, compared to 107,345 in 2001. Also, personal earnings produced by those jobs grew to $8.5 million from $2.3 million with an average salary of $42,000.

‘This is a critical figure, as community leaders stress job creation as the top priority each year to build our economy and retain our best and brightest,’ LaGrange said. ‘And no period of time is as important as now in our history.’

Other key figures in the study illustrated the port’s cargo and vessel activity accounted for $17.8 billion in total economic activity in Louisiana and generated $882.1 million in state and local tax revenue and was responsible for another $1.4 billion in federal income tax revenue.

The port’s $84 million in hurricane damage was another topic of the speech, along with the Port’s need to replace capacity, mitigate tenants that need deep-water access along the Mississippi River ’ Gulf Outlet, and identify potential sites for new facilities.

‘We are now faced with a challenge of shoehorning some of the capacity and facilities that we lost on the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal into our current footprint along the Mississippi River,’ LaGrange said. ‘While we do have a little room to grow along the Mississippi River Terminal Complex on the east bank, we have to re-evaluate every riverfront property in our jurisdiction.’

If a few of the current tenants are unable to relocate or restart operations at the Port, LaGrange said it is critical to work with the Ports Association of Louisiana to retain that economic activity in Louisiana.

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