Fresh off a deal to acquire the Public Belt Railroad, the head of the Port of New Orleans on Thursday stressed the need for the region's trade-reliant sectors to work together rather than against each other to land new business.
“We are ready to lead this region to a bright future,” said Brandy Christian, who assumed the post of president and CEO in January after two years as chief operating officer. "Our goals are to serve as an economic catalyst and generate more family-supporting jobs. And we are ready to do just that.”
That optimism comes as the New Orleans port finishes its master planning process, a years-long effort that will lay out the facility's blueprint for the growth over the next decade or more.
The plan, expected to be released in coming months, will highlight plans for increasing the port's capacity for handling break-bulk and container cargo, as well as finding ways to revitalize undervalued industrial real estate along the Mississippi River, including in nearby Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.
"As we think about the next 20 to 30 years, it's essential that we step back and think about the Port of New Orleans as something more than just wharves on the Uptown area of New Orleans," Christian said during her first State of the Port address, an annual function that was held at the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center.
"We have to think of ourselves as a major gateway that is connected with ports on six continents," she said.
Christian previously worked at the Port of San Diego for 14 years, culminating in her role as vice president for strategy and business development.
Christian's half-hour address rolled through a year's worth of highlights at the New Orleans port, touting the facility's cruise ship business, which is on track to hit record volume for the seventh year in a row, as well as the facility's steady and growing market for container and break-bulk cargo.
The port is on track to beat 1 million cruise ship passengers for the fourth straight year and hit a volume record for the seventh year, she said.
Carnival Cruise Line continues to offer year-round itineraries with the Carnival Dream and Carnival Triumph. In 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line will deploy the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, the largest occupancy cruise ship to sail from New Orleans. Additionally, Royal Caribbean International will return to New Orleans in 2018 with the Vision of the Seas.
The New Orleans port handled more than a half-million 20-foot equivalent units — a measure of cargo capacity for containerized shipping — in the 2017 fiscal year, which ended in June.
That number is expected to rise: Experts project an additional 400,000 20-foot equivalent units will flow through the Gulf region between 2017 and 2020, she said.
What's more, Christian said the port has made up for losses it incurred when Chiquita Brands International decided last year to move its cargo business back to Gulfport, Mississippi.
In the 2017 fiscal year, the port had an 17 percent increase in break-bulk cargo, she said, propped up by strong demand for steel — including 2.4 million tons that were imported — and non-ferrous metals.
Looking ahead at the port's acquisition of the Public Belt Railroad — which is expected to closes by the end of the year — Christian said the facility will be able to improve its inter-modal capabilities, which will give it a global edge and allow it to be in control of deciding new investment aimed at spurring growth and improving service.
The railroad includes 26 miles of track that connect six major rail lines serving the port and industrial facilities. In exchange for the city-owned railroad, the port traded two port-owned wharves at the downriver end of the French Quarter.
"Our competition is not upriver, it's not downriver. Our competition is in Texas and Alabama, and when we come together to build this integrated gateway, we will truly reach the true potential of the state of Louisiana," she said.
Editor's note: This story was changed on Nov. 9, 2017, to correct that experts are projecting a 400,000 TEU increase in volume from the Gulf region between 2017 and 2020.