Officials with the World Trade Center Mississippi River Alliance and the Big River Coalition will work together on issues that include an increase in the depth of the lower Mississippi River.

The groups want to match the depth of Panama Canal locks that will open in 2015 to accommodate larger ships, for which ports along the gulf and east coasts will be competing.

“We need a combined voice on this issue, which has major implications on the future of commerce, not just for Louisiana but for the entire nation,” said Dominik Knoll, chief executive officer of the World Trade Center of New Orleans. “We see the Big River Coalition as a strong ally that the alliance intends to work very closely with going forward.”

Cargo transported along the Mississippi River has an estimated $115 billion annual impact on the nation’s economy each year, the organizations said in a joint statement.

According to a recent Big River Coalition study, every dollar spent to deepen the Mississippi River by five feet, allowing larger vessels to reach Louisiana’s ports, will create $89.4 in economic benefits.

A deeper river could drive about $11.5 billion through increased international cargo movements, stemming from lower transportation costs and lower costs of importing oil. It would create 16,911 jobs nationally and $849.5 million in income for American workers, according to the study.

The two organization’s said they signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a cooperative effort to preserve and promote economic growth on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Sean Duffy Sr., executive director of the Big River Coalition, said recent history shows that the navigation channels and transportation infrastructure are underfunded by Congress and are often taken for granted until emergency actions are required.

“The Mississippi River Basin faces immense challenges over the next decade,” Duffy said. “Floods, drought or low water issues (rock pinnacles), inadequate funding for dredging and maintenance of critical locks and dams (navigation structures) must be addressed through proactive measures and proper investment.”

The Mississippi River Basin connects 31 states and two Canadian provinces through the third-largest river basin in the world.

“This new partnership aligns the two groups on efforts to deepen the Lower Mississippi River channel to 50 feet, an action that would help preserve the long-term economic vitality of the United States,” Duffy said.

The World Trade Center Mississippi River Alliance is a coalition of World Trade Centers along the Mississippi River, and is led by Knoll, the World Trade Center New Orleans’ CEO.

Alliance partners represent thousands of U.S. businesses, farmers and others who rely on the Mississippi River for commodities, including petroleum and coal products, agriculture, marine and wood products, chemicals, minerals and ores, paper, plastics and rubber products, and textiles and fabric.

The Big River Coalition was created in fiscal year 2011 in response to an announcement by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division confirming the discontinuation of reprogramming funds to maintain the lower Mississippi River navigation channel.

The Big River Coalition’s original focus was to obtain additional funding to supplement the shortfall in the Corps’ operations and maintenance budget and to establish a legislative firewall around the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Its mission expanded as the coalition grew.