RESERVE — Paul Matthews joined the Port of New Orleans in January 2012 with no industry experience. On January 15, 2022, he was named the new executive director of the Port of South Louisiana, the United States’ major grain-exporting port district.
Matthews was sought for the position during the Port of South Louisiana’s national search for new leadership. His experience securing multi-million dollar terminal leases and securing grants for critical infrastructure projects at the Port of Plaquemines made him an ideal candidate for the river region.
The three pillars of Matthews’ vision for the Port of South Louisiana are agriculture, infrastructure and energy transition.
More than 50% of all U.S. grain exports pass through the South Louisiana port, and Matthews said that will become even more important in light of projected food shortages and supply chain issues that could arise from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
“Our port is at the center of an international crisis even though we are 5,900 miles away,” Matthews said. “When the demand for grain increases in Europe, North Africa and also in China, trading partners of Ukraine and Russia, this is an opportunity for farmers in Louisiana and American farmers in the Midwest to push more cereals to the rest of the world. It all depends on what happens here at the Port of South Louisiana. I think the rumblings are there, but we want to be ready to meet that demand before it ramps up.
Matthews is reaching out to operators such as ADM and Zen-Noh to learn how the Port of South Louisiana can help local businesses increase capacity and meet growing demand. The Board of Commissioners recently voted to enter into a lease agreement with Greenfield Louisiana to build a grain terminal on the west bank of St. John Parish. According to Matthews, when completed, the Greenfield project would increase the port’s grain throughput by 10%.
“This is not just one facility being developed in the parish. It has become a national and international problem,” Matthews said.
Some of Matthews’ goals for his freshman year are to create more efficiencies among Port of South Louisiana personnel while fostering better relationships with local business, community, and government leaders. He met with the three parish presidents in the River region to discuss working together to improve infrastructure in the area.
Infrastructure goals include widening LA 3127 in the West Bank to St. James and St. John, adding a new interchange exit off the Interstate in Reserve, and developing a new corridor I-310 / Highway 90 in St. Charles Parish.
Matthews said expanding 3127 from two lanes to four lanes will create an opportunity for much-needed economic development and help address traffic congestion and safety issues. The proposed interchange exit in the reserve would also reduce congestion at LaPlace and provide a direct route to the Executive Regional Airport and the Port of South Louisiana Globalplex Terminal.
While there are still many questions about the upcoming energy transition, Matthews said the South Louisiana port can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.
“We want to be ready for the next few years and look at biofuel, energy and methanol options. We are part of a grant that was applied for in combination with GNO Inc., the Build Back Better grant, where we would be the e-methanol bunkering hub,” Matthews said. “We see it as a starting point for other types of environmentally friendly fuels to come to our port. There’s no reason industry and environmental awareness can’t come together.
Matthews added that local industry partners have pioneered a new, environmentally friendly way of operating.
Industries along the river include major Fortune 500 companies like Shell and Dow.
“We should be proud that six out of 10 jobs in this region are due to these operations,” Matthews said. “The Fluvial Region nourishes and feeds the world. Over 100 million tonnes of grain and 100 million tonnes of chemicals pass through the port. It is a hard-working region that gets things done. We are just beginning to tell the story of the South Louisiana port and river region.
While growing up in New Orleans, Matthews has close family ties to Vacherie. He is proud of the diversity of the region, which is reflected in the Board of Harbor Commissioners.