Group pushes for better port

Published 11:52 pm Sunday, November 25, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A group of business leaders has started a drive to get the next governor to make port improvements in Louisiana one of his top economic development priorities.

‘‘We want international trade and the ports to be Jindal’s No. 1 priority for economic development,’’ said Conrad Appel, the Metairie businessman who is spearheading the campaign. ‘‘Now is the time to do this.’’

As Appel sees it, the problem is the state’s largely fragmented network of roughly 30 public ports. Although allied in a statewide ports association, the cargo hubs often compete with each other for business and a relatively small pool of public dollars, he said.

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Appel suggests a system that brings the ports together for joint marketing efforts and economic goals. Without such a system, he says Louisiana will never be able to regain the market share it has lost in recent decades to cities such as Houston, Miami and Mobile, Ala.

Appel, who just stepped down from a five-year term as a commissioner on the Dock Board of the Port of New Orleans, has rallied a group of business leaders to promote his cause. The group has formed a steering committee that has been meeting to draft a plan Appel hopes will become a road map for Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal.

Appel said he has met with Jindal, who has indicated that the ports will be a focus. A statement from Jindal’s office said the governor-elect wants to dedicate ‘‘a significant portion’’ of the budget surplus on infrastructure ‘‘including ports.’’

A new report has named international trade as southeastern Louisiana’s top industry.

Commissioned by GNO Inc., an economic development group for the New Orleans area, the October report said the ports should be the target of the state’s future economic development efforts.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Port of New Orleans, battering its docks and warehouses, and spurring many businesses to leave New Orleans for safer ground. Yet just two years later, cargo numbers have risen above pre-storm levels, and new businesses have agreed to move in or expand their presence along the river.

Appel likewise faults state lawmakers for pursuing what he considers shortsighted economic development strategies. Appel points to efforts to recruit German steel manufacturer ThyssenKrupp AG to St. James Parish with a $2 billion incentive package. The company chose a site near Mobile, Ala.

‘‘We need to focus on sectors that have a fairly high probability of success and where we have assets in place, not something that would take us 30 years,’’ said Eugene Schreiber, managing director of the World Trade Center of New Orleans.

The ports of South Louisiana, New Orleans and Greater Baton Rouge rank among the nation’s top 10 tonnage ports, together moving more than 331 million tons of cargo, according to 2005 data from the American Association of Port Authorities.

The Port of South Louisiana is No. 1 in the group, moving 212 million tons of cargo in 2005.

But financing for ports has remained largely stagnant, and new ideas for port programs typically get ignored by the Legislature, said Joe Accardo, president of the Ports Association of Louisiana.

The ports need about $850 million through 2011 to pay for infrastructure improvements and other projects that would create ‘‘new economic potential,’’ according to a five-year plan the association published in January. Currently, the ports typically get about $30 million a year in state funding.


Information from: The Times-Picayune,