Chaisson not slowing down as he signs another three-year deal with Port

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2007


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – A lot of folks who are about to turn 73-years of age would tell you in a second what they think about today’s technology.

E-mails, cell phones, the Internet. It’s the kind of stuff that sends plenty of people to an early retirement.

But not Port of South Louisiana Executive Director Joel Chaisson.

The former judge not only made the transition into the world of technology years ago, but jokingly points out his distain for some of it, all the while knowing it is the way of the world today that is what he must stay up on.

And Chaisson apparently isn’t ready to get off the technology learning curve, as he signed for three more years heading the rapidly growing port, when the Board of Directors asked him to sign a new contract.

Chaisson officially renewed his previous three-year contract on October 10, now keeping him on board until 2010-regardless if he is 73 or 33.

“I thought about whether I wanted to keep doing this, but I figured as long as I was feeling good with my health, and as long as I was mentally good, I wanted to keep on,” he said. “I enjoy what I am doing.”

Chaisson began as the port director in 2005, and has been the leading force behind what has led the River Region facility to become one of the top ports in the world.

They are presently the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere, and ranked seventh or eighth in the world in tonnage moved, depending which month of the year you check.

“I think a lot of our growth has come since we have been pro-active in getting out there and letting people know about what a great port we have here,” Chaisson said. “We get contacts every day from state referrals, our web site, word of mouth and especially from a lot of trade missions and shows we go to.”

Which leads back to Chaisson and his e-mails.

“Let’s see,” he said, pulling out the cell phone to check. “I have 311 e-mails from the last two days. It’s funny since you wonder what the world did before cell phones and e-mail, but now you don’t know how you manage without them. I believe it has made our young people smarter and more accessible to information. And as for me, I’ve got no choice.”

Chaisson got a raise in the new contract from $167,000 a year to $186,400 a year, which also includes a $10,000 annual auto allowance.

As for the future of the port, he plans to expand the marketing department to increase the efficiency of responding to the many contacts the port gets. And he is looking forward to Governor-Elect Bobby Jindal’s promise to show more support for port infrastructure.

“Governor Jindal has said he thinks we need to build our port’s up to attract more business, and I agree completely,” Chaisson said. “When I have a company contact me and need some kind of dock for their business, I can’t say ‘we’ll have that built for you in three years,’ then expect them to wait for it. We’ve got to have that stuff built now, and it will positively bring us new business now.”

Chaisson said that the port probably sees “maybe 10 percent” of the contacts to the agency turn into actual business, making it clear how much work goes into prospects that never work out.

“The big steel mill was a perfect example,” he said. “We worked for 15 months on that, and then we got nothing.”

But Chaisson said the work for the steel mill from Germany locating in St. James Parish won’t be for nothing.

“We have companies lined up wanting that property now, and you will hear an announcement maybe within six months about a company we think will be coming there,” he promised.

He also said that there should be various other announcements in the coming year about other companies. He said a pipeline company, perhaps a small refinery to be built here and other storage facilities are just some of the groups that are in the works for the region.

While Chaisson clearly enjoys the day-to-day work to secure big business for the region, he said one of the other negatives to his job is being away from his family on some of the many trips he has to take, and of course, “the e-mails,” he added with a laugh.

“But overall, our port is doing as good, if not better, than any Louisiana port, and more companies are realizing how big we are. A lot of companies find out that we are the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere-bigger than New Orleans-or that we import and refine 16 percent of all the crude oil products, and they are amazed,” he said. “And as long as we keep marketing this port as hard as we have, I think you will see the growth continue.”