Louisiana officials considering how to boost international trade

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

 New money coming into the state, including federal stimulus and disaster recovery dollars, could help Louisiana seize an opportunity to be more competitive in international trade, a legislative subcommittee heard Thursday.

“We’re not doing as much as we could be doing,” said Greg Rusovich, CEO of New Orleans-based Transoceanic Development and chairman of the Louisiana Board of International Commerce.

Rusovich said Louisiana should create a new master plan to help identify focus areas and strategies. A port close to the mouth of the Mississippi River able to handle the world’s largest container ships would be an important piece, he said.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson touted the possibility to “re-shore” manufacturing of critical supplies such as personal protective equipment that have been outsourced to other countries. He said state officials are pursuing federal funding to expand a smart port pilot project that allows the state’s ports to share information in real time.

State Rep. Ryan Bourriaque, a Republican who represents parishes in southwest Louisiana that were hit hard during last year’s hurricane season, requested Pierson’s help in ensuring disaster recovery money is used in ways that deliver the best possible economic return on the investment.

“After every disaster is an opportunity if the investments are done right,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat.

Peterson urged Pierson to ensure green energy and environmental sustainability are emphasized in the plan.  

Geoff Stewart, an associate professor in the marketing department at UL-Lafayette, said the state could do a better job promoting the quality of its seafood and the personal stories of the people who work in the industry. The lack of a cold supply chain in the region limits the seafood industry’s ability to sell their products online, he said.

A state program that funds construction of port improvements has a $114 million backlog of pending projects, and investments in port infrastructure return about $7 for each dollar spent, officials said. Jennifer Marusak, executive director of the Ports Association of Louisiana, said the new $1.9 trillion federal aid and stimulus bill allows state and local governments to use some of their portion of the money for ports.

“We might have extra money floating around this year, because of the different pots of money coming down,” said Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, suggesting port improvements would be a good use of one-time money.

Louisiana exported $63.7 billion worth of goods in 2019, the most-recent year for which data is available, Pierson said. Goods exports support almost 129,000 jobs in Louisiana, LED said.