Aucoin: LaGrange’s maritime contributions felt locally, across port community

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Gary LaGrange, a native of Franklin, Louisiana, earned bachelor’s degrees in Geography/English and Economics from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, later graduating with Master’s honors in Urban Planning in 1975.

Simultaneously, he served as assistant director of the City of Lafayette and Regional Planning Commission from 1971 to 1972, then as Director of the Acadiana Regional Planning Commission from 1972 to 1975. And so it began, his path to 40 illustrious years as port executive director, an impressive run that will end in April 2017 as Gary retires from his post as Executive Director of the Port of New Orleans.

In 1976, Gary was selected as the first executive director of Franklin’s Port of West St. Mary, where he served for 21 years. He spearheaded the construction of that port from the ground up and was successful in developing a profitable, shallow-draft industrial complex that became the economic development catalyst for the parish. The port attracted more than $55 million in direct investment and created 800 new permanent jobs.

In 1997, Gary was recruited to the Port of South Louisiana, where he played a key role in its history by kicking off the expansion of our public terminal, Globalplex Intermodal Terminal. During his two-year tenure, he was responsible for the installation of a ship loader/unloader, conveyor belt system and construction of storage space at Globalplex’s bulk facility; the expansion of the general cargo dock, including the installation of two Manitowoc gantry cranes; the construction of a 50,000 square-foot transit shed at the foot of the general cargo dock; securing an EDA grant for a rail siding project, and twinning with both Puerto Cortes in Honduras and the Port Authority of Altamira in Mexico.

In 1999, Gary accepted the position of executive director at the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport, where he spent two years before moving to the Port of New Orleans.

Certainly, everyone in the maritime industry knows of Gary’s accomplishments as head of the Port of New Orleans. He took over the reins in 2001, enduring the embargo on imported steel after 9/11 right off the bat.

From that, however, he diversified the port’s operations by luring the cruise industry into the city, which presently ranks 10th in the world, creating a boom for New Orleans tourism. Furthermore, under Gary’s guidance, the port overcame and superseded the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed one-third of the port’s infrastructure.

$500 million have been invested thus far into new container, intermodal, cruise and refrigerated terminals, subsequently doubling the port’s container volumes, registering record revenues, ultimately welcoming over one million cruise passengers, and creating 1,500 jobs for the local workforce.

You don’t have to look hard to find Gary’s advocacy for community, business and civil involvement — activism that rivals his professional commitment: Boards and Executive Committees of the Waterways Council, Inc. and National Waterways Council; Board of the Gulf Ports Association of the Americas; past chairman and president of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association; Executive Committee of the Transportation Research Board; past chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities; Committee of 100 Louisiana; serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Advisory Council on Trade and Transportation; and serves within the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration’s Port subcommittee.

He was named: Maritime Person of the Year in 2001 by the Propeller Club of Gulfport; Maritime Person of the Year in 2003 by the Propeller Club of New Orleans; and “Man of Steel” by the American Institute of International Steel (AIIS). He received the Leadership Award by the International Maritime Association at the United Nations in New York, was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the International Maritime Association at the United Nations in New York and the National Rivers Hall of Fame in Dubuque, Iowa.

Later this year, he will be the recipient of the World Trade Center of New Orleans’ Eugene J. Schreiber Award, given to an individual who demonstrates exceptional knowledge and leadership in promoting international trade policy for the benefit of the State of Louisiana.

Congratulations Gary! I know you will do great things as you take the lead as Executive Director of the Ports Association of Louisiana (PAL). And thank you for your contributions to the Port of South Louisiana.

Paul Aucoin is executive director of the Port of South Louisiana. For more information, call 985-652-9278.