International Destination: Louisiana

Louisiana has long fostered a business climate that appeals to foreign direct investment. Since 2006, the injection of new investment from international firms has almost doubled, skyrocketing Louisiana’s overall cumulative FDI to more than $40 billion in 2011, a figure that dwarfs historic levels seen in most of the South.

Louisiana has always had an international flair. Abundant natural resources in high demand, long-held trade relationships throughout the world, and 28 active ports and associated infrastructure that support international trade have nurtured the Pelican State’s symbiotic relationship with imports and exports. Those same characteristics make Louisiana an ideal home for foreign direct investment.

“Louisiana’s history of international trade is as old as the river,” said Donald van de Werken, director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center in New Orleans. “Thomas Jefferson wanted this place for a reason. He knew the importance of having a river navigation system for economic vitality.”

More than 20 percent of the nation’s waterborne commerce passes through the Louisiana economy: fertilizer, industrial chemicals, lumber, pulp and paper, sand and gravel, steel, coal and grain. The nation’s No. 1 port by tonnage is the Port of South Louisiana, with 212 million tons of cargo annually, including 60 percent of all grain in the U.S.

The state’s six deepwater ports are the Ports of New Orleans, Lake Charles, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, South Louisiana and Greater Baton Rouge. According to the Census Bureau, New Orleans ranks as the No. 1 custom district in the U.S. for exports. Louisiana also ranks No. 2 with $129.5 billion in annual goods received through its foreign-trade zones.

“The value of the state’s deepwater ports can’t be emphasized enough,” said Joel Chaisson, the Port of South Louisiana’s executive director.

Port Fourchon, a deepwater service port in South Louisiana, serves about 90 percent of all the deepwater activity in the Gulf of Mexico, said Executive Director Chett Chiasson. “The efficiencies that are in Port Fourchon to service the oil and gas industry exist nowhere else.”

Furthermore, many of Louisiana’s deepwater ports are experiencing significant growth. At the Port of New Orleans, container volume has almost doubled in the past five years, the result of increased demand from the petrochemical and agribusiness sectors, said Bobby Landry, the Port of New Orleans director of marketing.

Chaisson said the Port of South Louisiana has an ambitious growth program to build a new dock, improve infrastructure and absorb nearby St. John the Baptist Parish Airport. One of the biggest grain terminals in the country is under construction at the Port of Lake Charles. At the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, the new regional Maritime Security Operations Center, a grain terminal expansion and other infrastructure improvement projects are under way.

This article was edited on March 11, 2013.