One year after becoming a multiparish economic development agency, and well into an economic downturn, One Acadiana’s leader says there is a “sense of urgency” to recruit businesses and jobs in the agency’s nine south Louisiana parishes.
“We’re now in active discussions with literally dozens of businesses that are considering locating or expanding in Acadiana,” One Acadiana CEO and President Jason El Koubi said. “While the downturn in the energy sector has created new challenges, it has also created a sense of urgency that did not exist a few years ago.”
Not all of the prospects will plant their corporate flags in the agency’s region, he said, “but the pipeline (of prospective businesses) is growing, and some of it will materialize.”
There was one win that One Acadiana had a hand in landing. Hazlewood Energy Hub in September announced it would develop a $400 million, 400-job crude storage and blending complex near Port Barre in St. Landry Parish, which, too, is part of One Acadiana’s territory. One Acadiana worked on the project with Louisiana Economic Development and Bill Rodier with St. Landry Parish Economic Development.
Other wins could be coming this year. Jim Bourgeois, One Acadiana’s vice president of business development, said he’s engaged in preliminary or advanced talks on 38 projects. Bourgeois wouldn’t release the identities of the companies, but he did provide categories.
Advanced manufacturing companies — a “catch-all” definition for all sorts of manufacturing prospects looking at Acadiana — make up two-thirds of the 38, Bourgeois said. Other prospects include those in food processing, digital media, alternative energy, petrochemical plants, service industry companies and distribution centers.
El Koubi said One Acadiana plans this year to visit 150 “economic driver” businesses — companies whose revenue comes from outside a region. Examples locally include software firm CGI, jewel-setting company Stuller, and Noble Plastics, which sells to customers worldwide.
To lure outside industry, One Acadiana staff are locating 100-acre or bigger sites in its nine-parish region of Lafayette, Iberia, St. Martin, St. Mary, Iberia, Vermilion, Acadia, St. Landry and Jefferson Davis parishes, El Koubi said.
One Acadiana, the former Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, was born in January 2015 after a successful $15 million fund drive set the agency up with money to operate for five years.
El Koubi, who was hired in late 2013 to head up the Lafayette chamber, said stretching the agency to nine parishes was not easy at times. There was resistance.
“There were a lot of challenges that needed to be overcome,” El Koubi said. “We have overcome some of those initial skepticisms.”
He also said that membership in One Acadiana continues to increase.
All the top-level personnel are in place with the final hire announced last week, which tapped former Louisiana labor secretary Phyllis Mouton to be the organization’s vice president of governmental affairs. Mouton will be the agency’s lobbyist at the local, state and federal levels of government.
Communications Director Anita Begnaud also is overseeing the construction of a better website, which will market what Acadiana has to offer and give One Acadiana member companies better access to information. Begnaud said the website should be up and running in six to eight weeks.
Also coming is a report by Garner Economics in Atlanta on the strengths and weaknesses of the region, which will include tax base and workforce analyses that compare the region with other parts of the U.S.
The report should reveal Acadiana’s strengths and weaknesses by saying “ ‘This is not who you think you are. This is who you are,’ ” Bourgeois said.
Other One Acadiana goals for 2016:
- Improve blighted urban sections in the nine parishes.
- Lobby government for business-friendly policies and laws.
- Vet political candidates.
- Retain existing businesses and encourage their expansion throughout the region.
- Continue to locate and certify industrial sites.