If you are from Shreveport, the big set of gears on one of the bridge pilings on the west bank of the Red River near downtown may look familiar. It is a twisting mechanism that was designed to swing a section of the new rail bridges and create an opening, in order to let river traffic flow. The boats, barges, and steamers that passed through the openings not only carried goods and people to and from the original port of Shreveport, but also further up the Red River. As the railways were expanding from east to west, these swinging bridges were built to ensure the continued passage of river traffic, which was vital to the city.
When founded, Shreveport was the western most city in the U.S., and its river port was an efficient way to get goods to the growing west, as well as to distribute local goods and cotton to the world. The mechanical bridge is about the only thing left that visually indicates there was once commercial traffic on the Red River, much less a port, where Shreveport was founded. As the train network matured, and goods could be shipped west by rail directly form the East and Midwest, river traffic slowed, and eventually dried up in the early decades of the last century. As a result, the river was neglected and started to silt up, eventually even shifting its course, as evidenced by the swinging bridge now being over land, rather than out in the river. The Port of Shreveport eventually disappeared, with local cotton moving from the river to rail, along with a newer local export, oil. This turn of events all but removed the direct connection between Shreveport and the rest of the world that the port had once provided. Downtown Shreveport shifted from a port city supporting global commerce, shipping and receiving local and foreign goods, to a more typical town center, which we all enjoy today.
Shreveport became a port in name only, but thankfully still continued to grow. All of this has been well documented and described by local historians, Eric J. Brock, Gary D. Joiner, Ernie Roberson, and others, in wonderful detail. In the early 1960’s the Caddo-Bossier Parishes Port Commission was formed to put the “port” back in Shreveport, with local leaders realizing that the Red River, and the area’s general location, was a valuable resource that could no longer be overlooked. Shreveport, Bossier City, and the Parishes of Caddo and Bossier all worked together, with the State of Louisiana, to explore the possibilities of creating a new Port of Shreveport-Bossier. After much groundwork and local investment, The Port was energized in 1993 when the local forward-thinking population voted to approve a $2.5 million property tax to help fund the project. By supporting the project, the area proved it had faith that the area could reclaim its place in national and international commerce. It was hoped that a new port would increase the stability of, and enhance the local economy, which had experienced many ups and downs as a result of the downturn in the oil and gas market in the late 1980’s. With funding secured, the Port was constructed on land just 10 miles south of Shreveport’s original location, down river from the low railroad bridges.
The new location spans over 4 miles of river, on land that formerly produced cotton and other crops, the very cargo that was once shipped from the original port to the world. By doing so, the Port’s new location repurposed land that once provided prosperity to the area, in hopes it could again. Even today, there are still patches of cotton fields interspersed with the docks, miles of roads and railroads, and buildings that make up The Port. It is comprised of over 2,300 acres of land, which is larger than the original Shreveport, when founded. There are platforms, cranes, and liquid transfer facilities to load, unload, and store cargo, liquids, hydrocarbons, raw materials and finished goods from all surface transportation modalities. There are also modern offices available for local, international, and new entities to use while they grow and build at The Port. There is plenty of land to further expand.
As a shipping facility, The Port has been successful, and has proved a solid investment for the community. Area citizens are proud that The Port is still growing over 20 years later, helping the area become a true center of distribution. The Port easily supports final destinations in the Central United States, ranging from west of the Ozark Mountains to North and Central Texas and Oklahoma. Shreveport-Bossier is perfectly positioned to efficiently serve areas that are a bit far from the mega-ports of New Orleans or Houston. By capitalizing on and marketing its location, the available services, and working to build a solid relationship with other facilities, such as the Port of New Orleans, The Port, and its staff of about twenty, succeeded in growing the number and volume of shipments, which was a large portion of the original goal. As our local cities have diversified, so too has The Port. It has grown to be more than just a typical shipping and storage facility, as is found in many ports.
Coupling the convenience of The Port’s location and economic development programs, many regional, national, and international companies have been sold on The Port as either a site for business expansion or even their headquarters. With this growth beyond distribution and storage, The Port has grown into an industrial community that uses our areas most valuable resource, our workforce, which can be forever developed and grown. This is a big win for our area, to the credit of all that supported the initiative. As a result, in addition to the many valued logistics and handling companies that are in-fact the functioning mechanism of The Port, there are now several key industries represented at The Port. All of them use The Port’s infrastructure and transportation access, to receive raw materials, manufacture goods, and then ship products such as chemicals, paper, and steel to the world. These three staples of nearly all other industries are each represented by multiple port tenants.
There are multiple paper goods facilities, which are innovators in the design and manufacture of cardboard, shipping supplies, boxes, and specialty retail packaging. One of these companies built a state of the art facility that actually recycles local waste paper to use in the manufacture of their products. Not only is the process innovative, it is good for the community, turning waste into a useful product. Another chose The Port as its national headquarters, relocating from another state, along with constructing a manufacturing facility. These various paper-based products are manufactured locally, and shipped to end users and customers all over the world from The Port. There are lubrication technology design and packaging companies, that employ science and engineering professionals and operate advanced laboratories to invent, design, and engineer chemical products and lubricants. These same companies also package and distribute many common and specialty products under their own brand names, as well as for known international brands under contract. These businesses often drive technological innovation not normally associated with a port, which creates higher-level jobs that are good for any community. As a result of their work, industry leading petrochemical and lubrication products and intellectual property are being created at The Port, and are shipped worldwide.
There are also very large, international manufacturers of steel products at The Port. One plant alone is over 800 thousand square feet, which is over 18 acres under roof. This manufacturer uses raw materials shipped in from distant places, to manufacture highly engineered steel alloy tubing and structural products that are then shipped out to firms and end users all over the world. These products are built with local labor, and some of the most sophisticated manufacturing equipment available today. Another successful international endeavor brings in coiled steel, and then processes and finishes it into material for building, construction, and other products, that are then distributed from The Port. Each of these operations requires a specialized and educated team of engineers and qualified workforce to support it.
The local investment in The Port made this possible, again to the benefit our community. Based on the activity and the volume of business that has settled at The Port, the communities’ investment seems to have really paid off. The creation of The Port facility has allowed local and state economic development programs to actively attract and close deals that would not be possible without the facility. Broadly, over the 23 years since the voters approved the property taxes, about $3.5 million per year have gone to The Port project. As a result of The Port investment, over $1.5 billion has been invested by business, industry, and development programs, creating over 1,500 valuable jobs for local workers, as well as facilities that will provide positive economic support to our area, for decades to come.
The Port offers a platform to not only diversify the area economy and utilize our workforce, but also to cement a permanent place for Shreveport-Bossier, in the chain of regional, national, and global commerce. The businesses and projects that have come as a result of The Port investment have also brought unexpected enhancements to the area, even beyond the direct immediate impact of the new businesses. In addition to again placing Shreveport-Bossier on the international map, new technical educational opportunity is one significant resource that was created as part of this areas partnership with industry.
As an innovative tool to attract manufacturing to the area, Louisiana Economic Development partnered with Bossier Parish Community College, to create a $22 million facility and educational program focused on a specialized technical education related to the types of manufacturing being performed at The Port. A highly technical international business locating at The Port actually helped design the curriculum so it would not only meet modern standards, but also help develop local students into the technical workforce needed by tomorrows industries. This and other programs provide a great addition to the educational resources in Shreveport-Bossier. By broadening the range and depth of educational programs available in the area, a greater foundation is built to support current and future industries. This joint effort and the educated, skillful workforce it is creating is likely as attractive to businesses looking for a home, as is the land, infrastructure, and facilities the area has to offer. These educational programs, developed as a result of business needs at The Port, will pay long dividends, adding again to the benefits enjoyed from the investment in The Port.
The investment made by the citizens of Caddo and Bossier Parishes, through The Port, has made the community better and more economically diverse than it was before. The vision of returning commerce to the Red River was not only realized, but has also fostered the development of industries that did not exist here when the new port was created. It is a real tribute to the area that in less than twenty-five years, The Port is operational and populated with growing businesses that provide science, technology, engineering, manufacturing, and logistics jobs, and is still poised for growth. There should be no stopping the progress now. The Port of Caddo will play a large part in the future prosperity of the entire region, not only as a platform to diversify our communities’ economies, but to keep Shreveport Bossier relevant in global commerce. Funny how things come full circle.
For more information on the Port of Caddo-Bossier, check out portcb.com