September 20, 2013

Port partnership promises plentiful possibilities for West Memphis & New Orleans

The facts are straightforward. Moving freight by water is economical, global markets are expanding and the need for more shipping options into and out of the U.S. grows daily. The geography is even simpler—New Orleans has a major port with global reach and the Port of West Memphis sits 600 river miles to the north, in the logistical center of the country.

So leaders in both cities are laying the groundwork for a partnership with seemingly unlimited potential. On Sept. 16, the City of West Memphis Economic Development office hosted a meeting in Little Rock with representatives from the Port of New Orleans and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC).

West Memphis Economic Development Director Ward Wimbish said the two ports will benefit greatly by working together.

“By offloading freight in New Orleans and shipping it to West Memphis by barge, the water leg of the journey into or out of the country for any product is maximized,” Wimbish said. “We can add value to the services the New Orleans port provides by storing and transporting containers—either to the Union Pacific container yard, an import center or straight into a facility used for manufacturing and assembly.’

It was the third such meeting to discuss a possible West Memphis/New Orleans partnership and the first to involve Arkansas Economic Development officials. AEDC Executive Director Grant Tennille said the logic of the partnership is clear.

“The geographical location and transportation infrastructure of West Memphis provide one of the strongest locations in the country for any company seeking superior logistics in North America,” Tennille said. “The partnership with the port of New Orleans gives West Memphis an unique global reach from middle America.”

Bobby Landry, Chief Commercial Officer for the Port of New Orleans, said that with new markets developing in Central and South America, the port partnership could take on a significant role in import and export activity in the U.S.

“There’s real potential for a growth market around moving imports or exports through the New Orleans/West Memphis waterway,” Landry said. “We’d like nothing more than to be the international logistical arm for the Port of West Memphis.”

Based on cargo volume, the port at New Orleans is one of the busiest in the nation. West Memphis can’t touch New Orleans numbers, but its deep water port has the advantage of location, multi-modal transportation access and potential for further development. The city is on the verge of fully realizing plans for an expansive rail-port logistics park and port operator Kinder Morgan recently completed a $5 million, 30,000-square-foot warehouse facility that will serve as a distribution hub for tens of
thousands of tons of fertilizer bound for customers across the country.

“Mentioning our port and the one at New Orleans in the same sentence may not make sense until you consider the untapped potential we have here in terms of location, access and competitive costs of doing business,” Wimbish said. “West Memphis isready to play an even greater role in the global economy and this partnership is our invitation to get busy.”