- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Chiquita company has announced it would keep its banana ripening business at the state Port at Gulfport, Mississippi, rather than New Orleans.

New Orleans port president and CEO Gary LaGrange told the New Orleans CityBusiness (https://bit.ly/1dckMHt ) that Chiquita’s new owners have told the port they are more interested in cargo operations at the port.

“We don’t know that it will ever come here at this point,” LaGrange said, adding that negotiations are ongoing between the port, Chiquita and the state.

But Gulfport’s port’s director of external affairs Matt Gresham says the ripening operation will stay in Mississippi for now, according to the website https://www.freshfruitportal.com .

“In exchange we have received more of their export business that we did not anticipate - such as clothing, tools and machinery necessary for operating a farm and harvesting bananas,” Gresham said.

Gresham said the ripening business was a ‘very small part’ of Chiquita’s operations.

LaGrange said cargo movement accounts for 99 percent of benefits to the port, LaGrange said.

The company has also had some issues with congestion at the port.

The state and port had planned to spend $2.6 million on putting structures inside the warehouse that could be used to ripen bananas.

Chiquita officials did not return requests for comment.

Chiquita moved its cargo operations to New Orleans last October. The company comes to the port every Tuesday with a ship and moves about 60,000 20-foot containers per year.

“Chiquita is blowing and going,” LaGrange said.

Other economic benefits have arisen with Chiquita’s presence, he said.

“On the export side, we have gotten to send back down machetes and workers’ boots that are used to harvest the crops,” LaGrange said. “That’s going to be some added containers as well that will offset those four jobs we didn’t get in the ripening rooms.”

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Information from: New Orleans CityBusiness, https://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com

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