U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced yesterday that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.6 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to The Water Institute of the Gulf, Baton Rouge, La., to develop the Lower Mississippi SmartPort and Resilience Center (SmartPort).
This EDA grant, to be matched with $1.4 million in state funds and $26,000 in local funds, is expected to create 31 jobs, retain 64 jobs, and generate $2 million in private investment.
“President Biden is committed to unleashing the full power of the federal government to ensure our nation not only recovers from this pandemic but builds back better,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “SmartPort will use data and analytics to improve business continuity and preparedness, which will better enable Louisiana ports to respond to disasters and prepare for future economic challenges.”
“The Economic Development Administration plays an important role in supporting community-led economic development strategies designed to boost coronavirus recovery and response efforts,” said Dennis Alvord, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “This EDA investment will integrate several port systems by facilitating, displaying, and managing dynamic port resilience dashboards, allowing ports to assess, prioritize, and monitor their status, creating a more resilient regional economy.”
“With the SmartPort initiative, Louisiana is taking a major leading role in bringing technological efficiencies to maritime commerce,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. “Louisianans are keenly aware of the vital role the Mississippi River plays in our history, our economic successes, and our future. This grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration is an affirmation that they, too, understand the role that safe, efficient river-based transportation plays in the broader U.S. economy. With the support of ports along the river, the SmartPort program will help us set a new standard for safety and emergency management.”
First announced in July 2020, the SmartPort Initiative is designed to streamline operations and improve safety through real-time data shared by port administrators, tenants, shippers, and warehouse, cargo and ground transportation providers. The program comprehensively evaluates navigation, coastal issues and flood risks along the Mississippi River. Additionally, the program will ultimately support efforts for the proposed river diversion project. The Port of New Orleans, the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge are lead partners with LED in supporting the project, along with other ports and warehouses along the Lower Mississippi River.
SmartPort program includes a decision support tool to forecast waves and shoaling at port facilities along the Mississippi River, which will aid port operations and navigation. The Real-Time Shoaling Forecast Tool will be part of a suite of weather, river and road traffic analytics to improve efficiency at ports and supporting the ports from the threats of natural disasters and economic uncertainties. SmartPort builds off of the work being done for the Shoaling Forecast Tool, instituted by the Port of New Orleans.
“The Institute is honored to partner with the State of Louisiana, our world-class network of Mississippi River ports, and the Economic Development Administration on SmartPort,” said Justin Ehrenwerth, president and CEO of The Water Institute. “Together, we will create innovative new tools while leveraging decades of knowledge and investment to manage the Mississippi River for navigation, flood risk reduction, and coastal restoration purposes. We look forward to sharing this knowledge with our state and federal partners as we collectively bring a holistic perspective to the river.”
In addition to the major ports of the Port of New Orleans, the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, the announced grant will support the launch of the SmartPort program at the Ports of Lake Providence, Madison, Vidalia, St. Bernard and Plaquemines. Development of the initiative will require contract support, and a request for proposal is planned for the near future for back-end platform developers. The completed SmartPort program is expected to go online in early 2022.
“The Port of New Orleans appreciates the U.S. Department of Commerce’s support and $1.6 million grant,” said Brandy Christian, President and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. “Each of the SmartPort initiative partners recognizes the Mississippi River as a critical economic artery that drives economic benefit throughout the state and country. SmartPort’s strategic application of analytics technology will help us all more fully and safely harness commercial opportunities while better understanding river behavior. We appreciate Gov. Edwards’ leadership on all maritime related projects, and looks forward to working with our SmartPort partners, Louisiana Economic Development and the Water Institute of the Gulf, as this important initiative grows.”
“SmartPort is such an innovative idea which will enhance the ease of doing business on and attracting business to the Mississippi River,” said Paul Aucoin, executive director of the Port of South Louisiana.