Those who run the state's ports and related businesses were in Lake Charles for meetings aimed at strengthening their economic impact and getting their story out.
Part of their message is that, as they put, it ports are "imPORTant" now and for the future. Louisiana's ports support industries that are responsible for about 400,0000 jobs in the state. These major economic players are working to help spur new growth and development.
They heard from Louisiana's new House Speaker from Calcasieu Parish, Representative Chuck Kleckley, who acknowledges ports are key to a brighter future for the state. " In tonnage we have the largest port district in the world and our five deep water ports make up the largest port complex in the world. We handle 525 million tons of cargo or 25% of all maritime cargo in the United States."
Kleckley says in the upcoming legislative session major areas of reform will include education, health care and pension, along with budget issues. But he says almost all the state's problems are tied to education. "We're 48th in the nation in K-12. One third of our students perform below grade level. We're last in the nation with fourth graders who read at a proficient level. 44% of our schools are rated d or f. And we spend a billion dollars on those schools."
The port also heard from General Russel Honore, who talked about leadership and preparedness. "I thank them for what they're doing and also challenge them to look forward in the next hundred years to improve our port system, to do it in an environmentally safe way and then to reach out in the community and try and help those kids struggling in school."
The conference wraps up Friday. The conference at L'auberge was hosted by the Port of Lake Charles which is the 11th largest port district in the nation.