In his dual roles as chairman of the Louisiana Board of International Commerce and chairman of the Port of New Orleans Board of Commissioners, Greg Rusovich commands a unique view of the state’s trade sector. Already a leading exporter, Louisiana is poised for further growth in international trade, says Rusovich, with the state’s transportation infrastructure and favorable business climate helping establish new global trading partners and greater direct foreign investment.
[EQ] Among the states, Louisiana ranks No. 6 for exports (No. 1 per capita) and is quickly narrowing the gap with No. 5 Illinois. What advantages does Louisiana offer?
[Rusovich] We’ve made it an attractive place to do business, thanks to low taxes, low regulatory requirements, a skilled and affordable workforce, a willingness to work with our partners, and incredible quality of life. That, coupled with unmatched assets like the Mississippi River, six Class I railroads, six deepwater ports, airports and interstates, makes it easy for a company to answer the question, “How can I get my product to market?”
[EQ] In 2014, Panama went from No. 15 to No. 6 among Louisiana’s trading partners, chiefly due to petroleum exports. What do trade relations look like long-term?
[Rusovich] There is big growth potential for trade between Louisiana and Central and South America. Copa Airlines recently announced a direct flight between New Orleans and Panama City, Panama. The expansion of the Panama Canal that is underway now will allow deepwater draft ships to enter the Gulf, and we see lots of opportunities to help get those containers into the U.S.
[EQ] The Port of New Orleans plays a significant role in international trade, and recent activity demonstrates its return as one of the great ports. Tell us about what we can expect in 2015 and beyond.
[Rusovich] It’s got the best financials and cargo volume flows we’ve seen for decades. We estimate a minimum of a 20 percent increase in our container volume over the next three years. Chiquita recently relocated their shipping from Gulfport [Mississippi] to New Orleans, and we’re seeing International Shipholding Corporation’s headquarters coming back to New Orleans from Mobile [Alabama]. Moreover, a mega-plastics district is underway with the establishment of TCI’s plastics-resin packaging facility at the port. That’s going to allow us to capture significantly more cargo containers to the port that would have gone to Houston.
[EQ] The Louisiana Board of International Commerce was established in 2012 to advance global trade. What is its role?
[Rusovich] Gov. Jindal and the State Legislature (under the leadership of Sen. Appel) put together legislation which launched the Board of International Commerce, a statewide board laser-focused and dedicated to building global trade and foreign direct investment for our state. The board works hand in hand with the Office of International Commerce of LED. We've launched international offices in key, strategic spots, compiled a master plan to guide us, and travelled overseas to secure business. We can all be proud that — for the first time in Louisiana's history — we have put together a solid structure, clear vision and dedicated mission to increase jobs and create additional wealth for our state by ensuring that Louisiana becomes a household, global name for decades to come.