New Orleans was “Gateway to the Americas” before being surpassed by other Sun Belt cities
NEW ORLEANS – On Wednesday, Louisiana’s Senate trade task force hosted two Louisiana State University economists for their second public meeting and debated how to promote international trade from the state level. With only four monthly meetings left before dissolution and an eye for next year’s legislative session, time is limited. However, the task force’s sponsor, Senator Conrad Appel (R – 9th District), expressed confidence that “everyone involved is enthusiastic,” as he described the committee’s goals.
The Louisiana Senate passed the 2010 resolution that set in motion “a unified initiative for economic development based upon global trade,” with the goal of “wealth creation” for the people and businesses of Louisiana.
“The people of Louisiana have lagged in the growth of their personal and business wealth for a very long time.” That is “the fundamental thrust of this,” says Appel, and the “wonderful economic engine called global trade… to a lot of people’s minds, has been ignored by state government.”
The state already has the “single largest port complex in the Western Hemisphere, but we don’t do anything with it… There’s no continuity amongst the different players.” And that is in spite of a “very favorable opinion of ports” among constituents.
“Thirty years ago,” he recalls, “New Orleans was called the Gateway to the Americas… We were the air hub between Central America and South America and the United States.” But such flights have not been in operation for a long time, “because we lost corporate jobs… to Houston and Miami… New Orleans lost its corporate lifeblood.”
Greater New Orleans Inc., a regional economical development agency, has its vice-chairman, Greg Rusovich, on the task force. He too believes the situation is begging for a response.
“For decades now, we have languished by not focusing on our international trade component, because the state did not put in adequate resources in comparison to other states, and we have not had a unified vision. Here one out of eight jobs are connected to [the maritime industry], in the state of Louisiana, and we’ve been losing badly – to Houston, to Miami – even to Mobile, Gulfport, and Savannah… This is not acceptable… International trade must be one of our principle focuses.”