Port of Lake Charles executive director Bill Rase said the port "is in a really strong position" in terms of its financial condition and its ability to bring in economic opportunities for Southwest Louisiana.
"If you just look at the general growth of the area, a lot of it is due to what the port has done," he said.
Rase, the port's executive director since May 2010, will serve until May 31, 2020. Richert Self, a port employee since 2003, will take over as executive director, starting June 1.
Rase supported the port board's decision to appoint Self as executive director. He said Self will provide the smoothest transition possible.
"(Self) has all the credentials," Rase said. "You need that stability for the common projects. You've got to be able to say, ‘This guy is not going to come in and try to change everything that's been established.' "
During his tenure as port director, Rase has seen many changes. He said the types of available cargo has changed, along with growing industrial opportunities.
"When I took over, there was no real mention of the export of (liquefied natural gas)," he said. "The Golden Nugget as it sits today was not here. The (Calcasieu Ship) Channel was woefully neglected."
Rase said he still isn't convinced the community totally understands the port's impact in the area. He said City Docks is a small segment of the overall transportation line.
"It's not just Lake Charles; it's the fact we're world-renowned now," he said.
Rase attended a dedication for Harbor Docking and Towing Company on Nov. 14 for two tugboats, valued at $15 million each. He said they will benefit strictly the LNG business. That same day, the Lake Charles Pilots also dedicated a new $4.2 million offshore boat.
Rase said the port tries to live up to its mission statement: "To actively create, facilitate and enhance benefits from maritime transportation and economic development for the benefit of its customers, stakeholders and the citizens of Southwest Louisiana."
"We don't look at a specific segment or type of industry or type of commodity," he said. "We're trying to do what benefits the entire community."
Rase said the port is "just a piece of the transportation industry."
Rase compared the impact of containers on the shipping industry to how computers changed the commercial world. The issue with containers, he said, is the need for infrastructure like highways, rail connections and population.
"As you start looking around in our area, things get really tight," Rase said.
Rase said the port, as with other ports, is "suffering from a decreasing labor force."
"The problem with the labor force is how do you maintain it and take a job that's needed, but it only works on a part-time basis," he said. "That hasn't been resolved in any of the ports (nationwide) at this point."
The port has recently started shipping different cargo, including blades for wind turbines. The port was recently awarded a three-ship trial run for lumber that will begin later this month.
"The cargo is there, but it comes and goes," Rase said. "It's a lot quicker turnaround than what the community is used to, but it's good cargo."
The port is working to secure a public-private partnership with itself, the state and industry. The P-3 partnership, Rase said, would "triple the money dedicated" to maintaining the Calcasieu Ship Channel.
"That's probably the most important thing on the horizon," he said. "I think we'll get that done probably by the first quarter of (2020)."
Several projects on port property that are awaiting financial investment decision include Lake Charles Methanol, Lake Charles LNG, Magnolia LNG and Big Lake Fuels.
"We supply the ground, but they supply the people," Rase said. "The jobs are high-paying jobs, and, construction-wise, there are thousands of jobs."
Rase said these announced projects indicate "the LNG business is here for real." He said most of the jobs waiting on FID could announce they are moving forward by third quarter of 2020.
S&P Global Ratings increased the port's bond rating from an A- to an A+, while Moody's Investor Service upgraded the bond rating from A3 to A2. These improvements, Rase said, are key in giving industries confidence when considering to locate high-dollar projects in Lake Charles.
"Industry needs to know they have somebody they can lean on when they're going to invest all this money," he said.
The Port of Lake Charles can stay competitive with ports in Beaumont and New Orleans by maintaining the Ship Channel, Rase said.
"If we can do that, I think we're going to be in very good shape," he said. "But you've got to have the funding to do that."
The Army Corps of Engineers only dredges half of the Ship Channel annually, Rase said.
"Our big push is to try and get them to dredge the full channel each year," he said.