To crib a motto from Las Vegas, what happens on the Mississippi River doesn’t necessarily stay on the Mississippi River. The conditions of the river and its access to shipping and goods, commodities and raw materials, all reverberate through the United States economy and the job prospects for states linked together by the river as it flows through the American heartland, past New Orleans and out to the world.
That is why a coalition of international trade organizations from 10 states along the river recently formed the World Trade Center Mississippi River Alliance. Led by the World Trade Center of New Orleans, the group’s aim is to give one voice to shared issues of maintenance, policy and planning for the river.
“This was born out of necessity, and now we have a vehicle to respond in a quicker way when situations come up,” says Dominik Knoll, CEO of the local World Trade Center. “The Mississippi River is very complex, a sophisticated system, and it requires a coordinated approach.”
Knoll explains that the new Mississippi River Alliance came about after a budget crisis at the Army Corps of Engineers last year threatened to impact the Corps’ dredging work on the river, which is crucial to keeping the navigation channel open to large vessels. The crisis was averted, and the river channel was dredged, but Knoll says it was a close call that demonstrated the need for more advocacy for the economies linked by the river. Dedicated funding for dredging and river maintenance remains a key issue for the alliance.
“If we have a problem here in Louisiana, it’s local but it can become a national issue because it can reach all the way up the river and impact commerce and trade,” Knoll says.
An impediment to shipping in the lower reaches of the Mississippi means it could hamper the flow of commodities originating far upstream, he points out as one example, while trouble with an obsolete river lock in the Midwest could impact businesses and jobs down here. Last year, a study funded by the state Department of Transportation and the Ports Association of Louisiana concluded that one in five jobs in Louisiana is directly tied to the maritime industry.