Access to markets can make or break a business, especially in competitive industries where speed to market is critical. That’s why market access is usually a central issue in site selection.
When a site is very close to customers or the transportation that reaches them, access is an obvious asset. But sometimes access is not obvious or complete. And everyone involved in expanding or relocating a business is challenged to look beyond what is to see what can be. Call it vision. And as a member of the Entergy’s economic development team, it’s a part of my work that I especially like.
Here’s a great example from New Orleans, the city where I grew up and have watched many business cycles evolve over recent decades. Ten years ago, no plastics were being exported from the Port of New Orleans. A study generated through Greater New Orleans, Inc. identified plastics as a growth market due to the abundance of natural gas resources in our region, which has led to the establishment of plastics manufacturing operations along the Mississippi River.
The vision our business community adopted was to create access to global plastics markets through the Port of New Orleans. Even though plastics manufacturers were close to a major port, the supply chain still had some weak links. A solution grew out of conversations among many stakeholders, including Entergy. As a result, the Port of New Orleans sold some of their land to TCI, a local trucking and warehousing company that wanted to expand their business to offer warehousing and packaging for the plastics market.
Our Entergy team assembled a meeting with TCI, Louisiana Economic Development and the Port of New Orleans to discuss what investment was needed to make the site viable for TCI. Out of that meeting, we introduced TCI to the state officials who could help them finance a rail spur to connect the main rail line to the warehouse district at the port. In 2009 TCI secured a forgivable loan, the rail spur was constructed and plastic products were warehoused, freeing up rail cars to deliver more products to and from the port.
The story didn’t end there. The success of plastics export through New Orleans called for the construction of a second rail spur, and we discussed with TCI the strategy of asking the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad for this round of investment. They agreed, built the spur and opened up more opportunities for expansion of local and regional industry through the Port of New Orleans.
This is a great success story for all the players in economic development that came to the table to discuss an opportunity. A local company grew to be a global company and made more than $70 million in capital investments in the New Orleans area, generating more than 340 new jobs. Opening up access to global markets created over 35,000 TEUs of new annual container volume for the Port of New Orleans. And all those statistics only apply to the local area. The impact on the rail business, the plastics manufacturing and the markets they serve is much more far-reaching.
It all started with a vision of what could be, and this experience inspires my team to keep asking, “How can we help connect you to the resources you need to grow your business?”