By Royal Alexander
It’s difficult to overstate what a tremendous natural economic asset a river can be, and the Red River is no exception.
As we know, in 1832, Capt. Henry Miller Shreve (Shreveport’s namesake) led the mission to break through the Great Raft which was nearly 160 miles of concentrated dead wood on the Red River that completely impeded steamboat traffic. Shreveport was the site of the worst section of the Red River, and where “The Raft” was impenetrable.
However, to reach its potential any economic asset must be developed and marketed successfully. Based upon what I saw on my recent tour of the Caddo-Bossier Port, that has and is happening.
I am chagrined to admit that although I was born and raised in Shreveport—and have driven past the Port all of my life—I had never stopped in. Well, I remedied that defect recently.
My tour guide, Director of Marketing and Sales, Kathy French, and Executive Port Director, Eric England, provided me with a wealth of information regarding the essence of what occurs there daily. What I saw is remarkable.
Let me try to summarize.
The Port of Caddo-Bossier is part of the 7-parish Red River Waterway Commission (RRWC). The RRWC includes Caddo, Bossier, Red River, Natchitoches, Grant, Rapides, and Avoyelles parishes. Over the last 50 plus years the RRWC has attracted federal and state dollars to create and maintain a navigable waterway. Of course, by making the Red River navigable, new industries have been attracted to our region.
(By the way, as economist Dr. Loren C. Scott points out, if the navigable waterway is the reason our riverboat casinos landed here then we can also add the economic impact of the casinos to our total RRWC-induced dollar amount).
One of my mistaken assumptions was that every entity that calls the Port home was directly connected to the river itself. Not so. There are multiple businesses that are located at the Port simply because it serves as a great regional location from which to launch to other markets.
Several of the Port industries do directly use the river to ship inbound or outbound cargo. However, other industries do not directly use the river but still benefit from water-compelled rates—i.e., as a bargaining chip, they use the option of choosing barge transportation to get more favorable rates from trucking and/or rail transportation.
I was curious about the broad economic impact of the RRWC, and I reviewed Dr. Scott’s most recent economic update.
In 2018 dollars, the RRWC has attracted $14.4 billion dollars since 1968. Dr. Scott also estimates that since 2018, significant additional private dollars have been injected into our region with the expansion of several of the tenants at the Port.
Of course, we shouldn’t overlook the enormous multiplier effect on our regional economy. Using the $14.4 billion in inflation-adjusted real spending, Dr. Scott concluded that:
1). Business firms in the 7-parish region gained over $23.9 billion in real new business sales since 1968.
2). Households in the 7-parish region saw real earnings rise over $6.9 billion since 1968.
3). In 2018, spending attracted to the region supported 4,741 jobs in the 7-parish area.
Current tenants of the Caddo-Bossier Port include: Benteler Steel, Calumet Packaging, Oakley Louisiana, Odyssey Specialized Logistics, LLC, Omni Industries—Omni Specialty Packaging, Omni Industrial Solutions, Pratt Industries Paper Mill, Ronpak, Ternium, West Louisiana Aggregates, LLC. and Alpine Silica (formerly Performance Proppants).
There is also considerable investment in infrastructure presently being made.
The Port will soon begin the bid process for a new $35 million waterline that will bring millions of gallons of water from Bossier City to the Port. The waterline is considered one of the first improvements needed to attract larger manufacturing facilities—which can create hundreds of new jobs for the area—by providing a redundant, or secondary, source of water for manufacturers that require it.
The Port is also working on a rail spur and plans on adding electric substations, natural gas lines and transload facilities, so the sites are “shovel ready”—often imperative to win a prospective tenant—for construction. (Biz Magazine, 4-25-23).
(Port tenants also frequently have job openings).
It is encouraging that with the largely self-inflicted explosion of inflation in the last 2.5 years and a challenging job market, the RRWC and the Port of Caddo-Bossier are a hopeful reminder that even in a difficult economy, a well-directed and marketed economic asset can flourish.