One Acadiana’s director said Thursday that getting I-49 South built remains a priority for the nine-parish economic development agency as he outlined goals for the future.
Jason El Koubi also told One Acadiana members at a morning gathering that the agency will continue to hire experts for its public policy, urban revitalization and business recruitment teams.
El Koubi said the 160-mile corridor from Interstate 10 in Lafayette to New Orleans could be completed in increments — $100 million for an upgrade here, $50 million for an interchange there — and that state highway officials would soon oversee construction of an interchange in Jeanerette.
El Koubi met with One Acadiana members to highlight the new organization’s first quarter, which began Jan. 1, and to brief them on what’s ahead.
“We’ve been very, very busy,” El Koubi said.
He said the organization continues to staff its public policy team, which will enable One Acadiana to engage lawmakers and government officials with facts and theories and maybe some solutions.
El Koubi offered one partial remedy to Louisiana’s seemingly intractable problem with funding higher education, universities that have seen hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts in the seven years Bobby Jindal has been governor.
He said the universities could operate in an “autonomous” fashion, much like a business, with college presidents and governing boards making decisions to raise tuition or to pursue some other revenue-earning measure.
El Koubi also said the business development executive that One Acadiana hired — Jim Bourgeois, from Louisiana Economic Development — is putting together a team that will target three to five business sectors.
El Koubi didn’t specify what those sectors are, but announcements over the past two years have included a Bell Helicopter assembly plant at the Lafayette Regional Airport and three high-tech companies locating in Lafayette.
El Koubi was hired in 2013 and led the Campaign for One Acadiana initiative to transform the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce into the group now called One Acadiana. It’s a multiparish organization designed to wield more economic and political clout that now also possesses the financial resources to form a world-class organization. One Acadiana announced it had met its fundraising goal of $15 million to fund the agency over five years.
Some of the money will be used to pay urban revitalization expert Harry Weiss, whose hiring was announced Wednesday. Weiss, who will lead One Acadiana’s urban revitalization, was hired away from a nonprofit in Grand Junction, Colorado, and spent 20 years in Asheville, North Carolina.
“With Harry coming in, it’s going to be a breath of fresh air,” said Brett Mellington, a representative from the Lafayette Economic Development Authority who lauded Weiss’ work in Asheville. Weiss is to begin his new job in early June.
El Koubi said Weiss, who visited areas of Acadiana earlier this year, will work on enhancing gateways, which are areas of a city or town that visitors see first when entering in vehicles or leaving an airport or train station.
El Koubi also said One Acadiana plans to travel with members to Charleston, South Carolina, which has had the benefit of a four-decade urban revitalization renaissance.
The trip is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12-14.
The agency also will sponsor a tour through some of the nine parishes that make up One Acadiana: Lafayette, Iberia, Vermilion, Acadia, Jefferson Davis, Evangeline, St. Martin, St. Mary and St. Landry. The trip is scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25.
Part of that trip will take place on U.S. 90, the corridor for the future I-49 South.
One Acadiana said Thursday that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development next week would review five bids to build an interchange at the junction in Jeanerette at U.S. 90 and La. 318.
The project, funded from federal and state sources, is to cost $50 million to $70 million and take up to two years to complete after work begins this summer.