On Tuesday, Gary LaGrange was on WLOX News, talking about the possibility of cruise ships coming to the Port of Gulfport . That same night, he finalized a deal to take over the Port of New Orleans. He'll make $186,000 a year, about $20,000 more than he could make here. More importantly, Gary LaGrange will be going home.
The walls in Gary LaGrange's Port of Gulfport office are filled with plaques. He's proudest of the plaque he got in 1987. "I was charter president of the Ports Association of Louisiana," he said, pointing to that plaque.
More than 14 years after getting that Louisiana honor, the Port of Gulfport director is getting back into the Louisiana port industry. He said, "People tell me I'm stupid for leaving because it's just been a fantastic experience."
LaGrange spent two years at the Port of Gulfport. During that time, revenues jumped almost 40 percent, and his administrative team got approvals for $500 million worth of port improvements.
LaGrange told WLOX News the reason he's leaving has everything to do with pride. He believes he can go home and turn around a New Orleans port that had 600 fewer ships dock at its terminals last year.
"Louisiana is in trouble, and the Port of New Orleans is in trouble. The city of New Orleans is in trouble," LaGrange said. "And I don't know that I can make any difference. But I have a sense of obligation now that this offer has been presented and made to me, that I feel like I've got to go do my duty."
Because of the shipping contacts LaGrange and other coast leaders recently made in Central and South America, the outgoing port director is sure he's leaving the Port of Gulfport in a great position to grow.
"The table is set over here; a lot of work has been done here, and some good people are going to step in," LaGrange said. "They have to keep the ball rolling. But the table is set over here now."
LaGrange's last day on the job is Sept. 21. The following Monday, he'll be at the Port of New Orleans. His hope is that this port and the New Orleans port can become partners that share information, rather than competitors that steal business away from each other.