The maritime industry of Louisiana has long awaited its own in-state maritime academy and can finally expect to have one established in the next three to five years.

Introducing the University of Louisiana Maritime Academy—or “ULMA” for short. Jim Henderson, the President of the University of Louisiana System, and the rest of his team within the UL System are taking on the exciting initiative of developing the first ever Louisiana Maritime College.

Associated Terminals and Turn Services sat down with President Henderson to understand the development and future of the soon-to-be academy.


In Louisiana, maritime is a huge part of our economy and lives. While there are three main drivers of the state’s economy—agriculture, water, and energy—water is essential for the success of the other two. “It’s important that we provide opportunities for Louisianians to be developed into leaders and members of the maritime workforce,” explains President Henderson.

Water commerce has consistently been a vital economic source in Louisiana, with the maritime industry second in the nation in tonnage. Further, 1 in 5 jobs are connected to the river according to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. In addition, maritime employees make a collective $3.5 billion (about $11 per person in the US) annually in income in Louisiana.  The average job in maritime operations in the state is 57% higher than all other industries, and we employ nine times the national average regarding the number of maritime workers. 

“A maritime college in Louisiana is necessary due to the state’s strategic location with the largest port system in the Western Hemisphere. We require a well-trained workforce to meet such growing demand,” explains Harrison Crabtree, Director of the World Trade Center of New Orleans. The local industry finds itself in a recruiting crisis with a quarter of its workforce near the retirement age, further pushing the need for this academy.

Bethany Stitch, University of New Orleans professor specializing in Freight Administration, explained that there was a “plan outlined to jumpstart developing a Louisiana Maritime Academy in 2005 but Hurricane Katrina had thrown the plan off its path.” 

“We’ve had multiple iterations of this idea and multiple versions of plans for the academy, and ultimately we do have some extraordinary elements of a world class maritime academy already in place, but they’re a bit disjointed,” says Henderson.


Henderson believes that with a sharp vision outlined under the academy umbrella of nine universities, they can leverage the best resources and academic planning to create the academy. For instance, the UL system can take aspects of business curriculum and put them in the context of maritime ministry, and further incorporate aspects they do not currently emphasize. For instance, Southeastern Louisiana University has a law school, but ULMA can now integrate a maritime law component.

The community mission and business imperative fueling ULMA has created extensive collaboration within the industry during its development. For example, UL partnered with the Open Water Initiative in developing ULMA’s curriculum. “Their depth of understanding spoke to us,” says Henderson on the Initiative, “it was a very natural partnership.”

Henderson explains that once their vision was clear, the job was to bring together all their resources to enact it. Soon, the pieces started coming together. These “pieces” are found at every level—internal, external, State, and Federal. For instance, Mark Wright, LA State Representative had come to UL regarding supporting the maritime industry and was delighted with the advancements already set in place. “It was natural that he became the author of the legislation supporting the Maritime Academy,” said Henderson.

“Last session, I carried the bill to initiate the UL Maritime Academy,” said State Representative Mark Wright, “I am grateful to President Henderson and his staff for playing a role in this great effort.” 

“One thing that will distinguish our academy is incorporating both blue water and brown water interest,” says Henderson. The inclusion of both interests is not only a niche for the academy to fill but will bolster their argument at the federal level. With this concept, ULMA can extend its impact into other states and provide extensive opportunities for students, graduates, and industry by paving the way to an expansive network.

The ULMA of Today and Tomorrow  

Currently, UL is working with a core task force in developing the Academy, its curriculum, and policies. The task force is comprised of members of the maritime industry, at the state level, and representatives from all their nine institutions.

Crabtree suggests ULMA should include “a focus on careers that aid in the growth of the maritime industry, such as, cybersecurity, engineering, and business.” While curriculum is currently being developed by ULMA’s board, Henderson explains that a combination of their top-notch existing programs of data capabilities, logistics, cybersecurity training, and research from their existing institutions will culminate in a comprehensive curriculum for ULMA. 

The UL team reports that the next level of action will include various processes such as the Coast Guard approval process, infrastructure, advocacy for resources, addressing industry needs, and hiring—including hiring an executive director who will run the academy itself. There is continuous development on the policy side, and “in the next 12-18 months, a tangible advance can be expected” from ULMA. 

When looking ahead to understand the demographics and opportunities of ULMA, Henderson explains that “the more diverse you are demographically, experientially, and psychometrically, the more perspectives you can incorporate, and therefore resulting in more comprehensive solution and operations.” In all, a variety of voices incorporated into the institution will produce a competitive advantage for ULMA.

One core goal of ULMA is to illuminate a wide array of opportunities to Louisianians—with student opportunities looking optimistic as UL’s Nicholls State maritime business students experience 100% job placement in the industry.

Further goals on a wider scale are to “grow an industry that has historically been bedrock in the Louisiana economy, and to send out a message to the nation that Louisiana is taking advantage of our assets and is here to do business.” ULMA wants the world of maritime to know that they are here to partner with them in providing talent based competitive advantages, they want to hear from them, and address their needs from the very beginning.

That said, Associated Terminals and Turn Services is thrilled to collaborate and support ULMA. We cannot wait to see what this academy has in store for the future of our industry.

Back to News