AFTER DOING EVERYTHING ELSE UNDER THE SUN, LYNN HOHENSEE DECIDED TO HEAD UP TWO PORTS AT ONCE
BY ANDREA MONGLER
Lynn Hohensee isn’t really a one-job kind of guy.
Though he officially retired in 2002 after 30 years in the oil industry, today he serves as director of both the West Calcasieu Port and the Port of Vinton. He also owns and operates LEH Communications, a communications consulting company that specializes in marketing communications and public relations.
Hohensee’s history of working a few jobs at once dates back to his days as a Minnesota farm boy. Born in 1948 in Worthington, Minn., he was raised in the same house his dad grew up in.
“My dad was one of 17 children and I’m an only child, so there was a lot of room in the house,” Hohensee says.
When he was 10, his parents quit farming and moved to a small neighboring town — just 256 people, by Hohensee’s recollection — called Bigelow. His dad worked days in a Campbell Soup Co. factory that made poultry products, and his mom worked nights as a telephone operator.
Hohensee, of course, had a few childhood jobs, including baling hay, mowing lawns, shoveling snow and pulling weeds in bean fields. He recalls making 25 cents an hour for the last task. “The most I ever made was a dollar an hour — from the more generous farmers,” he says.
He also spent time working as a newspaper boy for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which would lay the foundation for his future career.
Though he started out as a math major after enrolling at South Dakota State University, by the end of his freshman year he had switched to a double major in journalism and geography. In true Hohensee fashion, he held three sports-writing jobs at once during his college years: associate sports editor of the Brookings Register, the local daily paper; sports editor for the university’s student newspaper; and a position in the sports information director’s office.
He did summer internships at his hometown paper back in Worthington and at the Huron (South Dakota) Daily Plainsman.
“The more you write, the better you get,” he says.
He also signed up for Army ROTC. In January, 1971, he graduated with a bachelor’s and a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
After completing officer training, Hohensee did an active-duty stint in the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Carson, Colo., where he worked in the public affairs office.
In 1972, he transitioned into civilian life, but he would serve in the Army Reserve until his retirement from the military as a lieutenant colonel in 1999.
One of the highlights of his military career was a memorial service for former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she was interred next to John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in May, 1994. Hohensee led a public affairs team that coordinated with the news media before, during and after the service. He still treasures a personal thank-you note, addressed to him and signed by the former first lady’s children, John Kennedy, Jr., and Caroline Kennedy.
Another highlight was his activation for Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990. “Ten minutes after President George H.W. Bush went on national television and announced his activation of military reserve forces, I received a call at my Conoco office in Ponca City, Okla., with a notification that I would soon receive official orders that would have me report to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Within a week, I was at the Pentagon, assigned to the personal staff of the Army Chief of Staff Carl Vuono; [the staff was] called the Chief’s Assessment & Initiative Group.
“I was the only Reserve officer in the CAIG. I was proud to serve with the team, [which was] assigned to assist with Desert Shield war planning efforts prior to Desert Storm. It wasn’t until years later, after moving to Lake Charles, that I learned that Gen. Vuono and our community’s own retired Army Col. Wade Shaddock were classmates at West Point back in the 1950s.”
Hohensee’s first position as a civilian was a reporting job with the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. But in early 1973, his career took a notable turn when he accepted a position in the public affairs office of Shell Oil Co. in New Orleans.
Hohensee’s move to New Orleans would change his life. First, it marked the beginning of a three-decade-long career in the oil industry. It was also his introduction to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, which he would later choose to make his long-time home. And most important, he met his future wife, Marie, who also worked for Shell.
It didn’t take him long to become immersed in the Cajun culture.
“I was in charge of all the employee communications for Shell in the Gulf states and the Gulf of Mexico offshore, and it was an interesting experience,” Hohensee says. “On my first trip offshore, some very friendly Cajun workers introduced me to a south Louisiana card game. I lost probably about 30 percent of my first paycheck learning how to play bourré!”
Over the next few years, his career with Shell would take him to Houston, where he worked primarily as a corporate speechwriter. This stint would mark another milestone: the birth of Hohensee’s daughter, Heather.
After five years at headquarters, he returned to Louisiana, and the Shell refinery in Norco. A year later, he accepted a position back in Houston with Conoco.
His career with Conoco spanned the next 22 years. While Hohensee was with Conoco at its Houston-based headquarters in the early 1980s, one of his positions was coordinator of marketing communications. During that time, he edited two marketing publications for franchised branded jobbers and dealers. He also had the opportunity to spend time on the road with the company’s new “Hottest Brand Going” pitchman — four-time NFL Super Bowl champion quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
“The trips into Conoco’s marketing regions with Bradshaw were very interesting, and came at the time he was just finishing his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Hohensee says. “In addition to appearing in Conoco television commercials, Bradshaw was a great motivational speaker as he made public speaking engagements for service station and tire store grand openings across the Midwest.”
After Houston, Hohensee moved to Ponca City, Okla., and finally, in 1999, to Lake Charles. At those sites, he served as regional public relations director for the Rocky Mountains, the Mid-continent region and the Gulf Coast business units, respectively.
Joblessness wasn’t something Hohensee was accustomed to, but it didn’t last long. Within a couple of weeks, he accepted a position as head of the economic development foundation for the Chamber SWLA.
He left the chamber in 2005 to open his own consulting business. Within weeks, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and Hohensee was asked to help the United Way of SWLA address issues associated with the displaced New Orleans residents coming into Lake Charles.
“I was on duty for about a month when all of us had to leave because Hurricane Rita hit us,” he says. “We were displaced for a couple of weeks.”
Hohensee continued to work as a part-time consultant to the United Way, handling housing facilities and related communication activities, until 2007.
In the meantime — during the spring of 2006 — the West Calcasieu Port, 12 miles south of Sulphur, decided to hire a part-time director. Located halfway between Houston and New Orleans on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the 203-acre port is two miles west of the Calcasieu Ship Channel and a short drive from Interstate 10. The port offered Hohensee the job, and he accepted.
“People say, ‘How does a guy come out of the Army and the oil industry and then an economic development office and have the capacity and the background to run a port?’ And I will tell you that when I first started, I didn’t,” he says. “But the board believed in me, and we put together a strategic plan. And thanks to a grant from the Louisiana Dept. of Economic Development through the SWLA Economic Development Alliance, the port board of commissioners identified how we wanted the port to grow.”
And grown it has. When Hohensee was hired in 2006, the West Cal Port had just two tenants and revenue of less than $100,000. Today, it has seven tenants and annual gross revenue of nearly $900,000. During that same time span, the port’s asset base increased from $2.9 million to $12.4 million. The financial growth was accomplished with no full-time employees and no administrative office.
Before he became the port director, Hohensee and his wife had considered leaving Lake Charles. But they were immersed in the community and had good friends here, and they decided to stay.
It’s a decade later, and he’s more at home here than ever. In 2014, his daughter, Heather Hohensee, returned to the U.S. after 13 years in Rome and Geneva, most of which she spent working for Procter & Gamble. Today, she serves as the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana. Her house is less than a mile from her parents’ home in Moss Bluff.
“Heather made the decision to live here to be close to her ‘aging parents,’” Hohensee says. “It’s just another reason we really feel Lake Charles is our home.”
The year 2014 was momentous for another reason. That summer, Hohensee was asked to serve as director of the Port of Vinton in addition to his role with the West Cal Port. Unsurprisingly, he accepted.
“I was concerned about a potential conflict of interest,” he says. “I had the presidents of both boards sit down and discuss this. We all came to an agreement that we could approach this in a manner that there would not be a conflict of interest, and to date there has not been.”
At about 800 acres, the Port of Vinton is larger than the West Cal Port. But it sits seven miles north of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Maritime vessels leaving the port must navigate through the Vinton Navigation Channel to reach the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
At both West Cal and the Port of Vinton, Hohensee works closely with a CPA, an attorney and an engineering firm, all of whom work on a part-time contract basis, like Hohensee. Each port also has a five-member board of directors. Hohensee says the board is very supportive of planned growth.
His responsibilities while serving as part-time contract director for both the West Cal Port and the Port of Vinton include recruiting new port tenants and maintaining positive relations with existing tenants. He’s also been tasked with interfacing with local, regional and state economic development organizations; with local and state political entities; and with local, state and federal maritime professional organizations.
“Close coordination with the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and its administrative staff and with the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation & Development have been and continue to be essential to the growth and prosperity for both ports,” Hohensee says.
Both the West Cal Port and the Port of Vinton are part of the five-member Southwest Louisiana Port Network. The most well known member of the network is the Port of Lake Charles, which is the nation’s 11th-largest port, based on tonnage. The other two ports in the network are the West Cameron Port and the Port of Mermentau.
The Port of Lake Charles, of course, is a cargo port and a landlord port, which is what most people think of when they hear the word “port.” But the other ports in the Southwest Louisiana Port Network have their own niches.
Hohensee’s two ports offer opportunities for what he calls “secondary and tertiary companies” that need waterfront access. At West Cal, the tenants provide services such as barge towing and fleeting; marine construction; wet barge cleaning, stripping and repair; and dry barge cleaning and repair. So when a barge needs repair work done, for example, one of the companies at West Cal can do the job.
The Port of Vinton, on the other hand, is in the “industry growth niche,” Hohensee says. Its largest tenant, the Dunham Price Group, manufactures 40-foot concrete pylons that are driven into the ground to support construction projects. The facility is the largest of its kind in the nation.
“The strength of leadership at both the West Cal Port and the Port of Vinton is centered on the close working relationships of the boards of directors and the contract staffs,” Hohensee says. “In the economic climate we have in Southwest Louisiana right now, small entities like these ports are playing an instrumental role in making economic growth happen. I work very closely with the Port of Lake Charles and with the West Cameron Port. We have synergy, and we are helping one another through referral of potential clients. It’s been phenomenal, and we’re anticipating it will remain that way.”
In addition to his roles with the ports, Hohensee sits on the board of directors of the Ports Association of Louisiana and the board of directors for Boys Village. He is president of the Community Advisory Council for Christus St. Patrick Hospital. In a recent honor, he was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the PetroChem Athletic Association, a booster club for McNeese University Athletics.
Though a “farm boy from southern Minnesota” never could have imagined he’d end up at the helm of two thriving ports in Southwest Louisiana, Hohensee wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t just enjoy my job. I absolutely love it,” he says. “The passion I have for helping two small ports grow and reach their potential is just a dream come true.”