The Delta and America’s Economy

What does the Mississippi River Delta do for the United States?

A lot more than you might think!

Coastal Louisiana isn’t just about Mardi Gras beads or crawfish boils. Louisiana acts as the nerve center for an extensive web of transportation infrastructure connecting the Mississippi River Delta with cities across the country.


Ports like Baton Rouge and Lake Charles link the Mississippi and the American Midwest with the rest of the world. With five of the country’s fifteen largest ports within its borders, Louisiana handles about a fifth of all water born commerce in the United States, making the state a vital conduit for foreign and domestic trade.

Every year, Louisiana ships more than $100 billion worth of commodities and finished goods to the rest of the United States while simultaneously receiving an almost equal amount of agricultural produce, machinery and other products from factories, farms and urban areas in the Mississippi River Valley and other sections of the country. Many of these inbound shipments are destined for international markets: In 2010 alone, more than $30 billion in exports passed through the Port of New Orleans on their way to important trade destinations such as China, Japan and Mexico.

Natural Resources

In addition, the state is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Fisheries in and around coastal Louisiana serve as an important source of seafood for much of the United States, while the wetland habitats of the Mississippi River Delta attract hundreds of thousands of hunters and fisherman each year. Powering all of this activity are the abundant energy reserves that lie underneath Louisiana and its surrounding waters. Processing and production facilities for energy commodities are concentrated in the southern reaches of the state, close to the vast pools of oil and natural gas that lie beneath the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The Challenges Involved

It might come as a surprise then to learn that Louisiana is a state with serious economic challenges. Like the rest of the country, the state has witnessed rising unemployment over the past several years due to the recession. The coastal parishes of southeastern Louisiana have fallen on even harder times, thanks to the repercussions of the BP oil disaster.

On top of these issues, there is the pressing topic of land loss, occurring at a quicker rate in Louisiana than most anywhere else in America. Every hour in Louisiana, an area of land the size of a football field disappears due to various factors, including deltaic subsidence, saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion. The cost of repairing the coast and reversing the damage from last year’s spill will be in the billions of dollars, but by implementing comprehensive restoration now, we can prevent larger costs in the future. Moreover, restoration provides direct economic benefits, leading to investment and new jobs throughout the entire supply chain. A recent economic study by Duke University found that restoration would provide employment opportunities throughout the Gulf Coast and across 32 other states in the marine services, heavy equipment and engineering industries, among others. By promoting restoration, we have the opportunity to provide jobs today and prevent larger ecological catastrophes in the future.

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