Covering Louisiana

May 14, 2014 5:35 PM by AP

Jindal: Chiquita Brands to return to New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Chiquita Brands International Inc. is returning to New Orleans from Mississippi after nearly 40 years, bringing up to 350 new jobs.

Chiquita, then called United Brands, left New Orleans for Gulfport in the mid-1970s after more than 70 years in New Orleans. It is one of the Port of Gulfport's top four tenants, according to that port's website.

"This is a huge, historic win for the Port of New Orleans and for trade in our state," Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday at a news conference with Mario Pacheco, senior vice president of Chiquita, at the New Orleans port.

The state and the port, which is a state agency, offered more than $5 million in incentives. The state offered 10 years of subsidies estimated at $1.1 million to $1.5 million a year, based on how much cargo Chiquita handles in New Orleans, and $2.2 million for a distribution and ripening facility to be owned by the port and leased to Chiquita. The port will spend $2 million to fix up a container freight warehouse and install electrical hookups for refrigerated containers.

The move will increase the amount of cargo handled at the port by about 15 percent and bring 270 to 350 jobs, depending on the amount of cargo, according to a statement from Chiquita and the state.

Jonathan Daniels, executive director and CEO of the Port of Gulfport, said he would comment later Wednesday.

"Right now we are still gathering the information," he said early Wednesday afternoon.

Port of New Orleans President and CEO Gary LaGrange said an earlier deal to bring the company to New Orleans in 2005 fell through after Hurricane Katrina hit and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, where Chiquita would have been berthed, was closed.

He said the company will pay the port about $550,000 a year.

Chiquita is expected to begin shipping through New Orleans in early 2015, the officials said.

Chiquita and Fyffes of Ireland agreed in March to merge and create the world's biggest banana supplier, expected to generate $4.6 billion in annual sales. Shareholder and regulatory approval is still needed in both Ireland and the United States to create ChiquitaFyffes PLC, which would be headquartered in Dublin.

As United Brands Co., the company was headquartered in New Orleans until 1985.

"We at Chiquita are thrilled to return to the port and the great city of New Orleans as we implement a new shipping configuration," said Pacheco, who supervises the company's global logistics. "We are particularly excited about the enhanced service levels to our Chiquita and Great White Fleet customers that will result from this change in our shipping operations and expanded vessel capacity."

Gulfport gave "many years of great service," a news release quoted him as saying. "This was a clear business decision for us surrounding our new shipping configuration rather than any dissatisfaction with the strong and economically competitive team we have had at Gulfport."

Chiquita plans to ship 30,000 to 39,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of bananas and other fruit into New Orleans, and about the same amount of various outbound cargoes. A single unit represents enough cargo to fill a container 20 feet long and 8 feet high and wide.

Louisiana is offering $18.55 per TEU to offset increased shipping and handling costs at the Port of New Orleans. LaGrange said that subsidy is for 10 years.

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