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Port NOLA thinks big

Brandy D. Christian, Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) President and CEO, and New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Corporation (Rail NOLA) CEO, highlighted the successes and challenges of the agency’s diverse business profile in 2018 at the annual State of the Port address hosted by the International Freight Forwarders & Customs Brokers Association of New Orleans. Christian also outlined key short- and long-term strategies to capitalize on current momentum and galvanize the gateway for future success.

“This is our time in the Gulf and particularly for Greater New Orleans, but it is also ours to lose,” Christian said. “To achieve our goals, we have to think big, on and off Port property, and throughout our jurisdiction. Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes can all benefit from our successes.”

Christian announced that Port NOLA’s containerized cargo volumes posted a 10 percent increase in fiscal year 2018 over last year, citing the expansion of the Panama Canal and the growth in containerized exports, particularly resin and frozen poultry.

“We handled 527,000 TEUs in 2017,” said Christian. “This year, we will approach 600,000 TEUs and expect to exceed that volume in 2019.”

Port NOLA now reaches 58 global ports of call directly and more than 450 ports via transshipment with containerized and breakbulk cargo. The newest direct, all-water carrier service, Gulf Ocean Express, strengthens the region’s connection to Central America, Panama and Columbia.

Expanded access to international markets is attracting larger vessels to New Orleans, demonstrated most recently with the arrival of the largest container ship to call Port NOLA, the Pusan C, a 9,500-TEU vessel operated by France-based ocean carrier CMA CGM.

Port NOLA is also growing the country’s largest container-on-barge operation, in partnership with the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and operator SEACOR AMH.

“This year, we expect to handle 30,000 containers and are working with Louisiana Economic Development and the U.S. Maritime Administration to expand the service,” Christian said. “Aside from repositioning equipment, container-on-barge capability reduces congestion impacts on our roadways and gates, and has become a key strategy for managing our growth in an environmentally friendly way.”

The service repositions containers from Memphis to Baton Rouge where they are loaded with plastic resins. The loaded containers are then shipped by barge along the Mississippi River to Port NOLA to be loaded onto vessels for export to overseas markets.

Christian emphasized the Port’s work to optimize existing infrastructure. As the only international container port in the state of Louisiana, Port NOLA has invested more than $500 million in container operations and developed trusted relationships and partnerships throughout the logistics chain.

“Together with our partners, we will further invest in existing facilities as we develop new capacity to serve larger ships,” said Christian. “In the short-term, we will double our capacity at the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal with the purchase of up to four cranes, investments in rail and an expansion of the container yard.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently cleared the way to ensure larger ships can access ports on the Lower Mississippi River by approving dredging to 50 feet at the mouth of the river, positioning Port NOLA ahead of other Mississippi Gulf ports.

To handle demand and planning for the long term, Christian said the Port complex will benefit from a second and complimentary container terminal. Port officials are evaluating a priority site in St. Bernard Parish for its ability to accommodate container operations for all three ocean carrier alliances and vessels of any size. Port NOLA has secured major investors, including an operator and carriers, and continues talking to several companies about collocating value-added businesses.

“Increasing maritime activity in St. Bernard Parish would be a win for everyone, and we are working with local and state partners on the infrastructure investments to benefit the industry and the community,” Christian said. “With two integrated container terminals served by one of the strongest rail, barge and road gateways, along with unrestricted air draft and 50-foot water depth, Port NOLA will be able to meet the growth demands for the entire lower Mississippi River for the next century, as well as outpace the capabilities of any other Gulf port to handle the largest vessels.”

Christian said the Port’s momentum as a seamless transportation gateway, has positioned the region to attract more value-added services such as manufacturing, warehousing and distribution services.

“The purchase of the Avondale site is a testament to this demand and a major milestone,” said Christian. “The new owners’ intentions are to attract additive activity such as steel fabricators, other businesses that utilize commodities arriving through the Port, and, yes, distribution centers. The Port firmly believes this activity represents the highest and best use of the site and worked tirelessly to assist the acquisition. The entire Port complex can benefit as Avondale Marine implements that vision.”

Christian noted rail is an essential component of the success of the New Orleans gateway. Since Port NOLA acquired the New Orleans Public Belt in February 2018, feedback from Class I railroads, industry partners and the community has been positive. Kansas City Southern Railroad recently began weekly intermodal service between Port NOLA and the Dallas-market, and the Port anticipates announcing the launch of additional new intermodal service in the near future.

Christian said NOPB is committed to serving as a responsible urban neighbor while working to grow business. To find that balance, the Public Belt launched an Urban Rail Initiative, a long-term strategy and program to address infrastructure improvements, operations practices, automation and community outreach.

Breakbulk cargo, sensitive to manufacturing trends and economic fluctuations, experienced erratic trends in 2018. Preliminary data indicate breakbulk imports declined 30 percent Fiscal Year 2018 versus 2017 in large part due to trade policies involving tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum.

Imported rubber continues to be a bright spot and the Port continues to look for export opportunities, and has seen significant increases in exported logs and frac sand.

Christian said despite the current challenges, breakbulk is still vital to the Port’s growth and contributes to the diverse business profile.

“We are continuing to invest in our breakbulk facilities, including $50 million in our breakbulk wharves, so we can continue to serve as a top U.S. import port for rubber, steel, aluminum and other non-ferrous metals,” she said.

Christian also highlighted data from an economic impact study conducted by LSU that underscores Port NOLA as a powerful economic catalyst for the region.

The study found that Port activity in the three-parish jurisdiction (Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes) generates a total of 19,050 jobs and $3.9 billion of output. In the state as a whole, Port activity generates a total of 21,700 jobs and $4.3 billion of output. National impact is 119,510 jobs and nearly $30 billion output. The average annual salaries for Port NOLA tenant employees is $74,000, 41 percent higher than the local average.

“These are family-supporting jobs, ranging from skilled labor to executive, from welders to engineers, longshoremen to warehouse workers, customs brokers and freight forwarders,” said Christian. “These businesses and their employees provide a significant tax base to our parishes and the state through sales, property and payroll tax.”

Port NOLA is on target to surpass 1 million cruise passenger movements for the fifth consecutive year in 2018, thanks in part to ocean and river cruise lines homeporting newer and larger ships in New Orleans.

Disney Cruise Line recently announced its first ship ever to be homeported in Louisiana with six homeport calls in 2020 by the Disney Wonder.

“Disney Cruise Line’s excitement and choice to come to New Orleans underscores the region’s appeal to a family-friendly demographic,” Christian said. “We congratulate our hospitality partners’ efforts in building the New Orleans’ family-friendly brand.”

Next month, Port NOLA will welcome the largest cruise ship in both length and passenger occupancy to sail from New Orleans when the 3,963-passenger Norwegian Breakawayarrives replacing the Norwegian Pearl. Norwegian Cruise Line will offer guests a new cruise experience the following year when the 3,963-passenger Norwegian Getawayrepositions in the Crescent City replacing the Norwegian Breakawayin November 2019.

Royal Caribbean International returns to New Orleans in December 2018 to homeport theVision of the Seas. Carnival Cruise Line will increase capacity on its short cruise program in 2019 by replacing the Carnival Triumphwith the Carnival Valor. Carnival will offer guests a new cruise experience in 2019 when the Carnival Glorytakes over the 7-day itinerary of the Carnival Dream.

Earlier this month, American Cruise Lines increased its presence by launching the first modern riverboat in the U.S. on the Mississippi River, American Song. The second modern riverboat in the company’s series,American Harmony, will take over on the Mississippi River in 2019 replacing American Song.

Christian said Port NOLA’s cruise sector reinforces the tourism industry, and local small and medium businesses in New Orleans, citing data conducted by Business Research and Economic Advisors.

“Ninety percent of cruise passengers travel from out-of-state, 73 percent spend a day or two in New Orleans either before or after their cruise, and 75 percent report making a purchase in the Crescent City,” Christian explained. “These passengers generate over 306,000 rooms a night in New Orleans-area hotels.”

Christian touted Port NOLA’s growth and success is fueled by people including the Port’s Board of Commissioners, employees, tenants, stakeholders, and economic development and community partners.

“Our Port complex represents the collective energy of people with a passion for shipping, for rail and for innovation that drives growth and contributes to a higher quality of life,” Christian said. “This passion spans generations.”

During her address, Christian unveiled two videos highlighting the Port’s 2018 successes and the value of generations of families who work in the shipping and rail industries. The videos can be viewed here.

Source: Port of New Orleans
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