Louisiana: Building A More Resilient State
hen COVID-19 rewrote business plans worldwide in 2020, Louisiana leaders viewed the pandemic through a paramount lens: How can we build a more resilient state?
In April, Louisiana formed an 18-member Resilient Louisiana Commission with 15 associated task forces with two important missions: charting a path toward safely reopening the economy and making Louisiana more resilient for the long-term.
As state health leaders tackled the medical challenges of COVID-19, the commission engaged with a diverse group of experts, including policymakers, entrepreneurs, agribusiness, members of the public and Louisiana employers from large economic-driver firms down to small, neighborhood businesses.
“We have responded to many past disasters in Louisiana with a substantial degree of success,” said Secretary Don Pierson of Louisiana Economic Development, or LED. Health care consultant Terrie Sterling joined him in co-chairing the commission. “However, we all recognize that COVID-19 brings a unique and different kind of threat and we’re working as a team to create the very best practices for moving forward today and for building resiliency tomorrow.”
The state’s experience with hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 was key.
In the aftermath of those storms, Louisiana reorganized crucial resources under the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to serve as a comprehensive response and recovery agency.
One of GOHSEP’s first major accomplishments was installing the Louisiana Wireless Information Network, a $700 million investment that created the nation’s largest statewide radio system.
In 2008, LED created two new units focused on strengthening the state’s economy.
- LED’s Business Expansion and Retention Group, or BERG, cultivates relationships with more than 1,100 economic-driver companies in Louisiana, helping with modernization, supply chain and infrastructure solutions that improve competitiveness and secure the future of workforces.
- LED FastStart® provides comprehensive workforce solutions that Business Facilities has ranked No. 1 in the nation for a record 10 consecutive years. Key to that ranking is the program’s flexibility, customization and innovation in making a workforce ready at the very start of new operations.
BERG, FastStart and other LED divisions ramped up their support during COVID 19.
With LED’s Small Business, Community Competitiveness and International Commerce teams, BERG’s staff fielded thousands of calls and emails for COVID-19 business help. BERG’s survey of economic driver firms offered critical insight. While three of every four employers expected 2020 sales to be impacted by the pandemic, two of every three employers avoided layoffs through mid-2020. BERG also continued helping companies solve supply chain issues and other challenges.
“We used our existing industry relationships to reach out to driver companies with a COVID-specific survey,” said BERG Executive Director Melody Woodworth. “It was an opportunity to gauge their preparedness and response while connecting them to available resources, continuing our role as business advocates.”
A decade ago, LED FastStart innovated workforce training on handheld devices and development of customized, interactive training modules, or ITMs. FastStart provided ITMs that clients uploaded to their own intranet, enabling trainees and employees to learn at their own pace, 24 hours a day. ITMs bypass the constraints of classroom schedules, and they served as essential virtual learning platforms during COVID-19.
“The impact on our eLearning offerings was significant,” said LED FastStart Executive Director Paul Helton. “Much of our client base requested a rapid shift from traditional curriculum to remote delivery. We quickly converted many traditional instructor-led courses to webinar format, developed virtual walk-throughs with subject-matter experts, and robust virtual review sessions of training content. The goal is to ensure everyone is using their learning management systems to the fullest potential during this unprecedented pandemic.”
For high schools and community colleges, LED FastStart moved its Certification for Manufacturing courses to online delivery as well. Hands-on exercises required for the fast-track manufacturing credential, known as C4M, are handled according to safe COVID-19 guidelines.
ITM training has been deployed by companies as diverse as bedding manufacturer Sleep Number, satellite communications firm Globalstar and home health company Viemed. To date, LED FastStart has served over 31,300 people with nearly a half-million hours of training for more than 225 projects in Louisiana.
Even within COVID-19 constraints, Louisiana has seen project success in rural and urban areas of the state. In northwest Louisiana, General Dynamics Information Technology has a staff of more than 1,000 at the National Cyber Research Park in Bossier City. Already exceeding payroll commitments to the state by more than 30 percent, the company launched a summer recruiting campaign to attract more high-tech workers to the state’s northern technology corridor.
Click Here Digital, an elite digital consultancy, announced new corporate headquarters in Baton Rouge and the creation of 100 new jobs, while a collective of over 200 rice farmers and investors launched an $11.6 million rice mill project in Southwest Louisiana that will create 35 new jobs.
“Our mission to create a more resilient Louisiana is something we want to achieve not just in metro areas, but in rural areas where we can have a beneficial impact,” Pierson said. “We’re encouraged by a very strong project pipeline that bodes well for a strong rebound in the second half of 2020, leading to an increasingly robust performance in 2021.”
SWLA MOVES FORWARD, TARGETS PORT FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH
Since the early 2000s, Southwest Louisiana has been a hotbed for high-profile economic development projects…to the tune of over $100 billion dollars. Why?
A trained workforce, available land, transportation advantages, incentives, diversified industry portfolio and a region-wide understanding of how to conduct business.
Southwest Louisiana is home to five parishes (counties): Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Davis.
The area’s small and large businesses thrive together in good and difficult times. COVID-19 has forced the region’s business and governmental leaders to make adjustments, but the spirit of hard work and economic growth will never depart from the region’s culture.
For instance, it was announced recently that a Shreveport, Louisiana based company Etheredge Industrial Services was making a $433,000 capital investment in Calcasieu Parish near Chenault International Airport.
“This new addition builds upon a steady and diversified economic development near Chennault Airpark. Etheredge can serve the many industries in the Gulf Coast region from this new facility, and we look forward to having them grow in Southwest Louisiana,” Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance/Chamber SWLA CEO/President George Swift said.
Representatives from Etheredge, the Alliance/Chamber SWLA and Louisiana Economic Development, worked on the project prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Economic development professionals utilized old fashioned phone calls and new technology applications to keep the project moving forward.
Successful business development initiatives are based on being able to adapt to circumstances. SWLA leaders specialize in bridging problems to solutions.
Two facilities located in the region, in particular, are primed for development opportunities: Chennault International Airport and the Port of Lake Charles.
Chennault International Airport, strategically located on the Gulf Coast, hosts the longest runway (two miles long) between Houston and Cape Canaveral, FL. Chennault, a former military base, is a location that supports operations for any aircraft in the world.
“That also means we have the ability to support global operations from right here in Lake Charles, Louisiana,” said Kevin Melton, executive director.
“Low costs, tax incentives, uncongested airspace, zero air traffic delays, direct access to Interstate 10 and near access to rail that is adjacent to airport property and deepwater ports very nearby make Chennault a very credible opportunity for businesses within supply chain management and manufacturing,” Melton said. “This airport is poised and ready to grow and support the right fit tenants, we refer to as partners.”
The facility’s evolution has been a three-decade process.
“Chennault, for years, was a sleepy airport, but we are growing,” Melton said. “We already play host to partners who are major players in aviation, and we aim to grow through our continued benchmark services founded on trust and partnerships so that our community and businesses can capitalize on capabilities and capacity of our airport.”
Chennault’s strategic location at the center of the Gulf Coast provides access to a wide swath of the southern United States. Its newest area for development is Chennault Park, which offers multiple sites for potential aviation, aerospace and other tenants.
“Chennault Park’s infrastructure, incentives, low costs and ample room for expansion make it an attractive site for new development,” Melton said.
“Chennault brings economic diversity so that we are not completely reliant on any one industry,” Melton added. “We’re an economic driver for this community, we have the ability to grow and expand, and the money we invest goes right back into the pockets of our local workforce. This is the taxpayers’ airport—and we are trying to do good for the taxpayer.”
The Lake Charles Harbor & Terminal District—the “Port of Lake Charles,” in the shorthand of most people—is both the anchor of the Southwest Louisiana economy and a go-to choice for the world’s shippers because of its facilities and capacity.
The sprawling facility is the 12th-busiest port district in the nation, as measured by tonnage. It also leases expansive land tracts to two casino resorts and a host of industrial and petroleum-chemical enterprises.
“Our facilities have the capacity to handle cargoes of all shapes and sizes—from sacks of locally grown rice to 144-foot wind turbine blades,” said Richert Self, executive director.
Self took the helm of the Port on June 1, 2020 after serving as a deputy port director. He has met the leadership challenges head-on in the face of a global pandemic.
“We have remained 100 percent operational throughout the COVID-19 crisis,” Self said. “We continue to serve our clients in the energy, industry, construction and other businesses with rotating work schedules and full access to our facilities.”
The port’s capacity and service don’t stop at the edge of the docks.
“When we talk about the Port’s facilities, we include the Calcasieu Ship Channel,” Self said. “It’s a direct route to and from the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s carefully dredged to meet the demands of global shipping. For all we do to serve everything from petrochemical plants to liquefied natural gas terminals, the Ship Channel has gotten the nickname ‘America’s Energy Corridor.’”
Self cited current upgrades and the Port’s ongoing five-year capital projects as factors that position it well for the future. “We operate locally and serve globally,” Self said. “Lake Charles is one of the nation’s leading deepwater ports, with infrastructure and facilities that handle the demands of world shipping.”