Argument: New Orleans is an economically essential port city

Issue Report: Rebuilding New Orleans


Mark J. Clayton Associate Professor Department of Architecture Texas A&M University. “The view from the levee”. 2005 – Economics: The Port of New Orleans

Permanent evacuation of South Louisiana does not make economic sense. The river is the reason for New Orleans. If you move the city, you must move the river and vice versa. The simple truths of shipping, commerce, and trade require that there must be a port at the mouth of the Mississippi.

The grain of Nebraska, the cattle of Kansas, the produce of Missouri, the steel of Pittsburg and Toledo, all the production of the Midwest comes to New Orleans on great strings of barges, pushed by floating engines called barge boats. At New Orleans, the products are unloaded and placed into the holds of the oceangoing ships. The contents of the ships, bananas from Panama, electronics from Korea, machinery from Germany, are unloaded onto the wharfs and reloaded onto barges or trains for the trip into the interior of America. The barges cannot go out to sea, for their freeboard is too low. The ships cannot go upriver, for they are too unwieldy against the mighty current. To facilitate the commerce, a channel 45 feet deep is maintained as far upriver as Baton Rouge (Microsoft Encarta 2005). Farther north the channel is only nine feet deep, necessitating the use of barges. Without the transfer from river barge to ocean ship and vice versa, the commerce of America would halt, with no market for our goods and no products for us to consume.

The Port of South Louisiana, defined as the stretch of river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, is the largest port in the United States as measured by raw tonnage, and the fifth largest in the world (Geohive 2005b). For bulk cargo, such as raw materials and agricultural products, the Port of South Louisiana is the largest in the world (Wikipedia 2005b).

A comparison with other ports in the United States is also revealing. According to the Army Corps of Engineers using 2003 statistics, the Port of South Louisiana is the largest in the U.S., New Orleans is the fifth largest, Baton Rouge is the 10thlargest, and Plaquemine (just south of Baton Rouge) is the 11th largest (2005). Other Gulf Coast ports dominate the list (table 2).

In addition to the river and ocean shipping, New Orleans is a major port on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, a network of channels that facilitates interstate shipping. The waterway connects coastal communities in a continuous route from Brownsville, Texas, to near Tallahassee, Florida. The Port of New Orleans is also the only port served by six Class 1 railroads (Port of New Orleans 2005).

The U.S. economy does not function without a last port on the Mississippi. In the weeks after the catastrophe, politicians and some economists marveled that the U.S. economy appeared to suffer so little. However, the suffering has only just begun. As the imports and exports are rerouted at increased expense and markets wither due to inability to deliver, the economic pain will spread and intensify. The health of the United States depends on the Gulf ports.

The port does not exist without the engineers who design the ships and barge boats and port cranes. It does not exist without the seamen from India, Brazil, Ireland, and Indonesia. It does not exist without the poor people who act as day laborers to move the goods and service the boats. It does not exist without the investors, bankers, lawyers, professors, and other professionals who guide the great engines of commerce. It does not exist without the hospitality industry to serve the business travelers who come to the city to make deals or the tourists who come to gawk at the exotic. It does not exist without the “sin” businesses that serve the wanderers and dreamers who are searching for something to relieve their desperation or give them hope. New Orleans of August 2005 was as it became, as it should be and as it must be: the great seaport of the Mississippi.

Save Big – For skeptics unconvinced of the need to rebuild New Orleans for its cultural accolades, the economic importance of the city is undeniable.

  • The Port of New Orleans is 4th busiest in the world, and the busiest in the United States.
  • The gross state product of Louisiana, of which New Orleans is prime contributor, is 1.2% of U.S. GDP.
  • Total employment in the New Orleans -Metairie- Kenner MSA was 616,000 in 2004, including 510,000 private-sector workers.
  • Maritime activity within the Port of New Orleans is responsible for more than 107,000 jobs, $2 billion in earnings, $13 billion in spending and $231 million in taxes in the state of Louisiana.
  • Port of New Orleans handles about 145 million short tons (132 million tonnes) of cargo a year. It is a leading port for the movement of imported steel and is the nation’s top port for imported natural rubber.
  • New Orleans is the nation’s premier coffee-handling port, with 14 warehouses, more than 5.5 million feet of storage space and six roasting facilities in a 20 mile radius. Two of the most modern bulk processing operations are located in New Orleans: Dupuy Storage and Forwarding Corp. (first in U.S.) and Silocaf of New Orleans, Inc. (world’s largest).
  • Finally, as the nation discovered after Katrina, New Orleans and Louisiana are of inestimable importance to the petroleum industry. Louisiana ‘s natural resources include 11 percent of U.S. petroleum reserves and 19 percent of the country’s reserves of natural gas.
  • Louisiana has been the primary source of the nation’s crude oil, second in production of the nation’s natural gas, and second in total energy production. It has been the nation’s second largest refiner of petroleum for consumer use as gasoline, plastic, and other petroleum-based products.