Did you know that Louisiana is home to a port that moves more tonnage than Houston, Tampa, Los Angeles or New York?
The Port of South Louisiana's new Executive Director, Paul Matthews, joins us to discuss why his Port is such a behemoth, his priorities for the future, and to share his unique personal story of becoming the chief executive officer of one of America's most important ports.
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Jason French 0:01
When French explorers reached the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1682, they claimed the surrounding territory for France, named it Louisiana in honor of King Louis the 14th and promptly sent word home that this territory needed a port. Fast forward 340 years, Louisiana's economy is growing, rich and diverse, but A River Runs Through it all. And not just any river, the Mighty Mississippi. Now, ports abound in the Louisiana 32 In fact, each with a unique story, and each a churning engine of the Louisiana economy. Today we're taking a closer look at one of those ports to port that moves more tonnage than those in Baltimore, Tampa and Long Beach, California. combined. Our guest is the new executive director of the port of South Louisiana, Paul Matthews, will talk to him about how the port of South Louisiana is a driving force in Louisiana's increasingly global economy. And here's plans for the future. Today on the Louisiana global gumbo.
Dawn Cole 0:59
This is Louisiana, global gumbo, a production of the World Trade Center of New Orleans, there are many ingredients necessary to build a global economic powerhouse, people, places natural resources, entrepreneurial spirit. Join us as we explore the recipe that has made Louisiana force in the global economy. Here are your hosts, Jason French, and Ed Webb.
Jason French 1:28
Well, certainly since we were here recording last Ed, a lot has happened in the world. A lot of tragic news coming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. terrible story
Ed Webb 1:37
terrible story. Jason, again, something that we never imagined in our lifetime. that's occurring right now. In our hearts, our folks in Ukraine.
Jason French 1:46
That's so true. And this is a podcast that focuses on international issues, obviously, and, and business issues and international trade. And there'll be a time for us to talk about the impacts of the Ukraine war on those areas. But right now, it's just such a human story. I think we'll find some ways to incorporate what's happening into to our coverage over the next weeks and months. But but for now, like you said, our chest, our hearts and prayers go out for what's happening in a very tragic situation.
Ed Webb 2:09
Exactly. And in a very emotional situation.
Jason French 2:13
Well, today, we're going to be talking about a key part of the Louisiana economy. I feel like we've kind of been building up to this episode and talking about agriculture and energy in the city of New Orleans and economic development generally, but it's all tied together by one thing, and that's our ports. And as you were told when you were interviewing to be CEO, what they tell you had
Ed Webb 2:34
that the Mississippi River being our lifeblood, and indeed it is
Jason French 2:37
nothing could be more true. And you know, Louisiana has 32 ports,
Ed Webb 2:43
the ports, you know what all those ports are in motion. And we're looking at a few today and one that a particular that is really in motion is the largest port and tonnage in the western hemisphere.
Jason French 2:53
And it might not be a port that our average listener is familiar with, you know, the Port of New Orleans port of Baton Rouge, those are big name ports that folks no but the port of South Louisiana is a substantial substantial global
Ed Webb 3:04
port. But we'll look at the numbers. We looked at those earlier. And number four in exports, number for merchandise received and 35 billion a product sold admitted actually into that port big dollars. You
Jason French 3:17
just can't overstate the importance of what the port's mean to the economy. I told you that friend who listens to the podcast has teased me about how often I say Louisiana feeds the world Louisiana powers the world said if he had a nickel for every time it'd be a rich man at this point. But when you talk about feet, Louisiana feeding the world I'm gonna say it again. 70% of the grain exports from the United States come through Louisiana ports. And most of those come through the port of South Louisiana. So this really is the gateway that feeds the world. It
Ed Webb 3:42
is the gateway and those ports are again like the river our lifeblood, and without them not on the map.
Jason French 3:49
And even even small ports that folks across the state likely haven't heard of was Cameron port and Cameron Parish, Louisiana, a huge, huge presence in LNG exports. So each one of these ports has a story. And we're going to dive into one of them today with a young, dynamic and incredibly experienced leader in port to whose I know has been a friend to us both, and who I could not be more excited for getting this opportunity. And honestly, I'm excited for the port to have his leadership.
Ed Webb 4:17
polymath is one of the finest young folks I've ever had a chance to meet and work with. And he took this position roughly in January, I believe, right? Yes, the port director. And we watched his his career growth from everything from to the Port of New Orleans to Blackmun's and now to the port of South Louisiana. And each step gave him a great deal of experience and opportunity to take that background and do something great with his next career. And this is the next Grand we're lucky to have him there the port of South Louisiana.
Jason French 4:44
He represents a new generation of leadership for the ports for the port of South Louisiana for the port community. I'm really excited to hear from IMC.
Ed Webb 4:51
I think we have enjoyed Paul today and let's go with no further
Jason French 4:54
ado, here's our interview with Paul Matthews. So one of the things When I talk to people about ports who aren't experts on on what folks like you do, right, they think about ports and I think it's what we see outside the window right here. And you know, that facility that's sitting right there that is was prepping for this discussion. I looked at generally the the size and scope of what you have down here at the port of South Louisiana. Can you tell us a little bit about this? This is not just the facilities we see out the window. This This extends for miles. Can you just tell us a little bit about the size and scope the port South Louisiana?
Paul Matthews 5:26
Well, the Port of South Louisiana from a river mile standpoint is 54 miles along the lower Mississippi River. So from Baton Rouge to Plaquemines, you have over 250 miles of waterfront for port development with five ports. And we represent 54 of those miles. But there's a very significant 54 miles in that. You're talking about the largest tonnage port in the state of Louisiana, and the second largest in the western hemisphere. So it's not just the docks, it's not just the 54,000 bars movements that we have the 6000 vessels that traverse, up and down the Mississippi River, coming to port a South Louisiana, but seven of the nine grain terminals in the state of Louisiana are right within our jurisdiction. And jurisdiction spans the parishes of St. James, St. John, and St. Charles Parish. So what I tell people is from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, pretty much if anything in between, is in the port of South Louisiana,
Jason French 6:28
when you talk about second largest tonnage in the Western Hemisphere, can you put that in perspective? How much are you moving through the border, South Louisiana and and then kind of the follow up to that you mentioned grain, I know that you've got a pretty significant number about what you do as far as grain exports here. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Unknown Speaker 6:44
Yeah, so we look at the number it's roughly 230 million tonnes of cargo that we move through our port. In perspective, that's the almost the 15th largest tonnage port in the world. Now, most most of the top 15 ports are actually in China. And then obviously, we have Rotterdam and Europe. But you know, I'm a big college football fan. So top 15 ain't too bad that we are you talking about the world?
Ed Webb 7:09
Let me get back to a Jason's question on the port. Paul, how do you define a port because Jason's run on target when people say ports, that think of all kind of things, Jason, between what you see and hear and will bill in other countries, other cities? How do you define a port Paul?
Unknown Speaker 7:25
Well, I define a port as the connection between land and water. So bottom line is goods and cargo move. It has to get from from land to water and water to land at the end of the day. And there's one spot, all that all happens is at a port. So when we think about all the goods that we consume on a daily basis, whether it's the food, we eat, the furniture that we buy the shoes on our feet, the purses that our ladies have, whether it's furniture, whatever it is, it's got to come through a port, because over 90%, of what we use, comes by water from some other country. So it's got to get to land, the only way to transfer from water to land and in simplest terms, is through a port. And once it gets on land, the port serves as a connector from warehousing distribution centers, being able to get the trucks and move those core cargoes on truck, or move those cargoes on rail, or even pipeline or by air as we have an airport, here at the border, South Louisiana. So a port is simply getting cargo to transition from water to land from land to water.
Jason French 8:35
Paul, want to ask you a little bit about your personal story. And coming to this role. I kind of look at you as someone who gives hope to all of us who've worked in Community and Government Affairs, because I know this is your third port. And I think that's quite unique. But folks don't know you started with the Port of New Orleans and their community affairs side. It's very rare that someone who starts in Community and Government Affairs rises to Chief Executive Officer for any organization. So tell us a little bit about your path to getting here and what you've what you've learned and how it shaped your perspective, having been at three major ports in the state of Louisiana.
Unknown Speaker 9:08
So I started at the port in New Orleans. It was very kind of interesting. I was living in Alexandria, Louisiana, trying to get back home to New Orleans or the southeast region. This was maybe about four or five years after Hurricane Katrina. I was working on my MBA at University of Louisiana Lafayette. And I Met Gala garage at the time was the president and CEO of the port in New Orleans, who by the way, is pretty much the godfather of ports around the country. Everybody knows him. And I met him at an event. And I went up to him. I said, Listen, I'm working on my MBA I should be done in about a year and a half, two years. I would love for the opportunity to come work at the port in New Orleans. Now mind you, I didn't know anything about the industry. I was just trying to get back home and so this was an opportunity to be aggressive and network. So Gary being who he is said okay, alright, we'll finish up the NBA didn't call me two years later, I called him. And I said, I'm done. And he said, Okay, why don't you come in, we'll do an internship maybe, or something like that. So I would actually travel two or three times a week. And I would travel two or three times a week to the port in New Orleans and an intern. And over six to nine months after traveling back and forth, they actually offered me a job to come home. And when I got there, I was really part of what they were looking at succession planning. And so I got involved in every single department at the port, learning all the ins and outs as I could. And then I recognized there was a huge void at the port. Regarding community outreach and community affairs. People knew there was a port, but people couldn't see the port because the great big wall that blocks Clarence hearing trackway that's parallel to top tools. And also recognize that this wasn't just a poor New Orleans issue, but this was a national issue. So when I talked to my friends and Porter, Long Beach, important New York Port of Tampa Port of Miami, they're all struggling to find ways to help people understand how ports work, and what they mean to the community, and what they mean to the globe, obviously. So I decided to start that project. They, they made me the Director of Community Affairs. And I started with nothing. I didn't have a budget. I asked for a plan of some sort. They said you make up the plan, you got a blank slate. So I said, Okay, no problem. So I do best with just making relationships. So I went out May relationships in the, with the education institutions, many corporations, organizations like the World Trade Center, and find ways to bring everyone together. So that civic and IT organizations and nonprofits and education institutions understand what we do as a port.
Jason French 11:51
So you really drove the first community affairs presence at the port in New Orleans. Correct? That's, that's, I had no idea. Yeah. So now they've
Unknown Speaker 11:59
grown it leaps and bounds. I'm so proud of that they have they've done far more than I can even imagine. They've had a lot of different workshops. And they've continued to do that. One of my pride and joy for being the community affairs manager there was I started the maritime workforce Summit. And so what I recognized from meeting with education institutions and meeting with nonprofits and civic organizations, they didn't know how to connect with the businesses in the industry, whether it was attended of the port, or rail or terminal operator, or whether it was a custom broker or freight for the trucking industry. So I said, let me just bring everybody in the room, because the educators wanted to build a pipeline, and build a framework and pathways for students right out of high school to get into these maritime jobs. If for nothing else, just exposure. At the same time, the companies in the industry, were looking for people coming right out of high school to get these jobs. And they were saying we can't find anyone. So I'm talking to both sides, but they're not talking to each other. So we were able to bring them together and have these conversations and to talk about what is the truly the way to go straight from high school or community college or right out of college, to then being right into the industry at between 18 and 22 years old.
Ed Webb 13:17
Well, let me jump in a bit. Another question. Let's get back to the force itself. Tell us about the state of the ports in Louisiana, we've got roughly 30 Plus ports in our state and domestically competing in a big way downstream, upstream, internationally in a big way. But there's a lot going on right now internationally but domestically to but tell us what to say to ports. In your perspective. What do you see? What are your thoughts? What are your what's your intuition telling you where our ports are headed.
Unknown Speaker 13:46
So we have 30 plus ports in the state. And I tell people if you've been to one port in the state of Louisiana, you've only seen one port. They are all completely different in one way or another. Some of them some of them are just somewhat of a small port that has a few barges here or there every year, a lot of them in North Louisiana. Some ports are more real estate ports that that deal with having tenants develop potentially warehousing or even commercial developments. And then you have the ports on the lower Mississippi River which are I think, in such a way their own unique type of ports in Louisiana, where you have port A Baton Rouge at the top of the Lower Mississippi River, then poor South Louisiana, poor New Orleans just lower than that. And in the final 80 miles of the Lower Mississippi River being Plaquemines those five ports all together actually make up the largest port complex in the world with over 12,000 vessel traverses more than half a billion tons going in and out a half a million bars movements a year it's it's pretty significant.
Ed Webb 14:51
So let me get just going to finish that thought. So in your in your mindset about our ports. Are we moving in the right direction with our ports in the state are they With the help from a federal level from a state level,
Unknown Speaker 15:03
yeah, so there's a lot of things that we do well. And we've been doing well for a long time. But there's more to get done. I think the issue is for us is a lot of it comes down to infrastructure and capacity. There's there's certain areas of our ports, there's ample land to develop. But sometimes there's a lack of funding. And so that's why we're really excited about this is the infrastructure bill that was passed and signed by President Biden to really deal with some of the inefficiencies regarding infrastructure, congestion issues that we have, and also capacity issues. I think long term, I ports really need to have more of a regional focus and focus on the state of Louisiana. Because because you have 30 plus ports, in one state. Sometimes you could trip over yourself getting your own way. But if we look at all the benefits of our ports, we can find ways to work together and collaborate and actually market to the rest of the world, all of our resources. Whereas if we're all in the same sandbox, and there's certain things that bad ruse does, well, a port foo Shawn does well, Port A Plaquemines does well port like Charles Kato Bowser does well, and we all can work together, looking at intermodal connectivity looking at land development opportunities, because the way I see it is that if we can market our ports collectively, then we can attract more businesses to the lower Mississippi River to the Gulf Coast, so that we'd be on a level playing field with let's say, Port Long Beach and port LA.
Jason French 16:33
So Paul, you're you're not the first one to mention to us collaboration between the ports. We did an episode a few weeks ago with Michael Hecht. He talked about the same thing. As we talk about how we handle container traffic in this state, how we how we market our state to the world, like you said it would be the largest port if you if you combine those five would be the largest port in the world. Everybody knows, I think that we need more collaboration. Do you have any ideas? How we do that? Is it going to take legislative intervention to make that happen with 32? Rival ports? How do you bring folks to the table and take that next step on the collaboration that you're talking about?
Unknown Speaker 17:08
Well, legislation usually is always the hardest one, right? You know, we say, you know, in our lives, well, it's gonna take an act of Congress to do something, right. So that's always the toughest. Looking at the legislative side, I think first and foremost, we got to make sure that our CEOs of our ports have the same vision of collaboration. That's, that's the easiest path to do it. And so at the port of South Louisiana, I welcome any port wanting to work with us and find ways to collaborate because my interest and our interest at the port of South Louisiana, is we want it in the state of Louisiana, we want the cargo moves, we want the jobs we want the economic development in the state of Louisiana. If it can't be at my port, well, it better be at another port in the state.
Jason French 17:57
This podcast is brought to you by the generous support of our sponsors at Louisiana economic development. Louisiana's diverse landscapes include dense timber forests, and seafood rich coastlines. And every step along the way, you'll find a business environment that strong, diverse and ripe with opportunity need proof Louisiana's where NASA and higher ed partners build rockets that will transport the first women and the first person of color to the moon, where the port system delivers the most domestic cargo in the United States, and Louisiana is home to the best workforce development program in the country. See what Louisiana economic development can do for you. Visit opportunity louisiana.com today. Let's move in a slightly different direction. You and your team were kind enough to host us here today. We've got a room with great acoustics but people will be able to hear in the background. We're here to work in Fort, you can hear the equipment and things moving in the background. Tell let's go back to the board of South Louisiana. We went over some of the stats and in the size and where you rank. Tell us about some of the activities that we might be hearing out here. What type of activities are happening, where we sit today, and what are some of the projects that are coming. I know you've got some projects that you're excited about that are coming for the port. Tell us a little bit about that too.
Unknown Speaker 19:12
Yeah, well, we're in the guest house right now. The guest house is right here on the global Plex campus which is over 330 acres. We are we have an operator called associated terminals as a main terminal operator for the dock and finger pier. We actually just purchased two cone cranes general cargo cranes right on the docks. So you're probably hearing those right now dumping loads on to the barge or onto the trucks. Those are each I want to say those are each of those were a total of $13 million to get here. And so we're very appreciative that and we want to thank the state for helping us fund those projects. So our global Plex terminal really is what we see as our main campus for development. Even though we have a significant other A movement of cargo that you hear and feel every time we the trucks past the guesthouse. We have hundreds of acres of land ready for development, and also with the opportunity for intermodal connectivity by rail within the terminal. So we're looking at opportunities for them for intermodal connectivity, more warehousing, distribution centers, different things like that. major projects that we have going on right now, where one is right behind us. We're right next door is our brand new administration building. We're calling the Economic Development Center at the port of South Louisiana, which I think is pretty significant. But that's what we do or economic development, our job is to facilitate and foster economic development by way of movement of waterborne commerce. And so this facility will actually hold all of our staff and for the first time, in the six years at the port of South Louisiana, the entire staff will be in the same building, believe it or not, as opposed to scattered throughout the region. This also housed our board meetings with our Board of Commissioners, we have nine members, three from each parish, St. James St. John, and St. Charles session is starting within a week at the Capitol. So we have a few projects that we're working on to get some funding, we actually receive federal funding already by merit over $13 million, a particular for an additional dock access bridge, and our global blex dock, what that will do is actually triple our cargo throughputs as trucks pass up and down the ramp to get to the main dock.
Jason French 21:28
So when you mention pursuing state funding, I think one of the projects that you're looking for funding for is an extension of the runway is that your airport, right when when I did a had an opportunity to meet with you two or three weeks ago, and was fascinated to learn that you have an airport at the border of South Louisiana, tell us a little bit about how that airport is incorporated into the port complex. And then what that additional funding will do for you with the airport facility
Unknown Speaker 21:55
sure pours out Louisiana is actually the only port on the low Mississippi River with a port and an airport. So it's very significant. The airport is actually less than a half a mile away from this facility. Ideally, we'd like to get to a point where we can move cargo off our docks and get it onto to air all within the same zip code and out. And then we'll truly be multimodal having access to the water rail, pipelines, road and air. So that airport actually many decades ago was part of St. John Parish, and we were able to acquire that that airport right now we move a lot of private airplanes and get of airplanes coming through very nice planes. I tell my staff, I want a bunch of pictures in the new building the Economic Development Center with all these beautiful jets out there. What you know, I'm not a pilot, but I would love to fly those things and tell you what for my aviators on and be on top gun and everything. Pretty cool. So I think I think for us that airport long term has a lot of potential. So if we're able to extend the runway out another 1500 feet to get to a runway length of 6500 feet, we're able to bring in cargo planes, that would be a game changer for our region to have that type of access.
Jason French 23:09
Any other key projects on for state funding that you'd like to mention I, I know we have, we have a few folks in Baton Rouge who listen to this podcast. So I just wanted to give you an opportunity to put those other items that you might be interested in pursuing state funding for
Unknown Speaker 23:21
sure. And this goes back to what we talked about having a regional approach. The Port of South Louisiana is not just interested in our own projects and staying on the sidelines for other projects within our region. So we want to be at the forefront of pushing major regional projects that may not be directly per se a port project, but it's a project that port will benefit from and our community will benefit from this three in particular number one is St. James Parish on the West Bank. There's the LA 3127 expansion, which will go from two lanes to four lanes major state project 10 miles of it has already been constructed of expansion that was actually funded by a private investor. So now we're looking at the state to make sure to La 3127 is expanded all throughout St. James Parish, from two lanes to four lanes, and St. John the Baptist Parish, we're looking at the reserve i 10 exit, having a brand new exit right close to the port and to the airport that connects and allow our trucks to get in and out of the port efficiently and not having those trucks go through the community and relieve a lot of that congestion in our communities. And also in St. Charles Parrish. We're looking at I 310 highway 90 corridor which relieve lot of congestion of the trucks and the cars that are trying to get on the i 310. If we get able to do that they'll actually be a great benefit for our community and allow for efficiencies and movement of cargo.
Ed Webb 24:47
Let me jump into another area right now of reports in August for any business but being resilient. We just had a major hurricane with ITA and you stepped in at a time when you were still handling the after effects of ATA and This was this facility talks about that, but the recovery process you're going through that I've gone through and what you're experiencing today.
Unknown Speaker 25:07
Well, I actually started the recovery process of hurricane Ida in plaquing. This port because it took a big lick as well. Plaquemines was really cut in half, midway through the parish being completely flooded and having no access to the lower part of Plaquemines. And so as my last few days of Plaquemines port, we really kicked into high gear and making sure that all of our operators, the community, the sheriff's office, government agencies, had what they needed. And it was great coordination, now coming into the port of South Louisiana and, and working with a team that really were this area was devastated more than any other area from Hurricane items. It was absolutely incredible. But they've been very resilient and strong, and particularly the port, we've been focused on pushing levees, constructing the levees, the West Shore levee, in particular, at the 100 100 year level protection. So we've been working with the potrai Levee District and the Army Corps of Engineers, there's been some funding for that project. And we're working with them in coordination. As we coordinate the extension of the runway and the building of the West Shore project. The fact remains that residents are still rebuilding from Hurricane on here in the river parishes. And I think that that's important because I remember when Katrina hit, and I lost my home and in Katrina, the world after a few weeks, maybe a few months, forgot about everything went on their merry way. But people here in river parishes are still feeling the effects, still feeling the trauma, and having to rebuild, rebuild their homes, rebuild their families. So I think it's important to let everybody know in the state and in the world, that the river parishes all all can use your thoughts and prayers and support as we continue to rebuild. But we're very resilient people in Louisiana, we're used to these things. And we, we just get back up and we keep moving. But let's get to
Ed Webb 27:07
who Paul Matthews really has been this research on you. And Jason, we're looking at some things on this past week. We understand that you you have a knack for music, and that you are one time a a certain Michael Jackson fan, and that you can make some dance moves that would put him to shame if you were still living. And secondly, you also are big on baseball and you call yourself a dugout. Do you want to approach both? Well, those
Unknown Speaker 27:32
first Yeah, I cannot confirm nor deny that I'm a Michael Jackson fan. And I have a couple moves here and there. Now I grew up as a kid just loving all his music and his his music became a gateway to to other musicians. So I remember listening to his music and my parents was telling me oh, well, he's, you know, he he's getting these moves from Jackie Wilson and James Brown. And so I started listening to those folks and learning them and, and on and on Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers. Matter of fact, Stevie Wonder got me through Hurricane Katrina. When you talk about music, Stevie Wonder's definitive album, got me through, I can still listen to those songs today. Think about where I was at what moment during the times after Katrina, and I think just mentally music, music therapy, if you will, really helped me during Katrina, as far as the dugout, Dad. Yeah, it's pretty fun. I grew up a big fan of basketball. I played basketball in high school, but I watched baseball and football and every other sport, but I'm not really big in all the new mechanics of baseball now in the Moneyball situation that, you know, I got a problem when a guy's got a no hitter in the eighth inning, and they pull them, you know, I just, I got a problem with that. But anyway, I don't have to worry about all that. When I'm when I'm at my kids baseball game. I'm the dad that's in the dugout, I make sure all the helmets are in a row because you know, when they come back in, the helmets are everywhere. So I get to put the helmet to make them all straight. Make sure they have their bats, everybody's in order. Make sure everybody has their glove. And I love I got the best seat in the house to watch a baseball game, watch my kid play baseball. And I think the best thing for me is my kid is so excited that I'm in the dugout for the game. So he loves having me. And other great part is whether they win or lose. My kid is probably for five seconds. If they lose, you'll say oh, we lost a game. I said yeah, that's okay. Well, we'll play next time and it's okay. And the next thing you know, he'll say, Dad, can I have some ice cream? I guess whatever you want. We're fine.
Ed Webb 29:32
I'm still stuck on watching. You be doing the moonwalk. Paul. It's killing me.
Jason French 29:37
Next episode we do with you will be on video.
Unknown Speaker 29:40
No problem. I wear the outfit. Oh. Well, Paul,
Jason French 29:43
thank you so much for being with us today. I know that this new job that you've you've come to is keeping you incredibly busy. So we appreciate your time as a friend and someone who's known you for a little while couldn't be any more prouder about what you're doing now and, and and really appreciate you being with us today. You got anything else you'd like to share before we sign off?
Transcribed by https://otter.ai