While Louisiana faces challenges with state budget shortfalls and low oil prices, the basic strengths of the economy remain constant, the head of Louisiana’s economic development department said Monday.

The state still has an abundance of natural resources, access to the Mississippi River and a network of ports and rail lines, said Don Pierson, LED secretary.

“These are challenging times in Louisiana,” Pierson said at the Statewide Economic Development Summit held at L’Auberge Casino Hotel. “You feel this in regions across the state, and you feel it in the Legislature, but what we do is we face those challenges together.”

Harkening back to his days as a U.S. Army paratrooper commander, Pierson said the key to success is working as a team.

“You don’t win when you cross the finish line, you win when the team crosses the finish line together,” he said.

The summit brought together about 400 people from across Louisiana, representing the state’s eight economic development partners, elected local officials, representatives from colleges and universities and private business leaders.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said similar meetings were held about 10 years ago. Regional economic development leaders decided they again needed to get together to talk about challenges, opportunities and how to make Louisiana a better place to work and live.

“It’s time for us to be stronger in our partnerships,” Pierson said.

LED’s goal is to have more Louisiana citizens than ever working — earning wages that are higher and matching skill sets that are higher than ever before to good jobs.

“The workplace of tomorrow will be dominated by talented, educated, well-trained people,” Pierson said. “We want to attract skilled people to well-paying jobs.”

To that end, local economic development leaders need to work with universities, colleges, community colleges and technical schools in their area. Those assets are a critical part of how cities lure economic development projects today.

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker said Louisiana Tech helped attract Monster Moto, a manufacturer of minibikes and go-carts. Monster Moto announced a year ago it will move its headquarters and manufacturing facility from the Dallas area to Ruston, a transition that will create 287 jobs over the next decade, with an average annual salary of $46,800, plus benefits.

Walker said Monster Moto officials met with Tech President Les Guice and spent three hours talking to engineering students before making their decision to move their headquarters.

Chris Masingill, chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership that provides opportunities across the Mississippi River Delta, said there needs to be greater collaboration between educational institutions and economic developers to make sure there is a pipeline of skilled workers.

“It’s about K through J, kindergarten through jobs,” he said. “Not K through 12 or K through 14 or 16.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate