Jefferson Parish has made big strides with limited resources in recent years, but it must continue to focus on workforce and infrastructure development in order to meet the challenges of the next decade.
That was the message delivered Wednesday by Jefferson Parish President John Young and Parish Council Chairman Elton Lagasse in their annual “State of the Parish” address to the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Kenner.
Young said that over the next 10 years, the state is expected to create almost 90,000 jobs, most of them in south Louisiana.
“The bad news … is we don’t have the skilled workforce to fill those jobs,” he said. “We want to fill those jobs with people from Jefferson Parish, this region and the citizens of Louisiana.”
Young said bolstering the technical and community college system will be crucial to helping Jefferson get its share of those jobs. He lauded Delgado Community College for its plans to open a River City Campus in 2016 in the Fairfield neighborhood on the West Bank, where the school will provide maritime and automotive training to a student body of 3,000.
“Basically, they’re gone. I don’t think you’ll see that (come back) as we remember it growing up,” Lagasse said.
Young said Jefferson will continue to look for ways to upgrade its housing stock with residential developments that appeal to young professionals. He said there are opportunities in Metairie’s Fat City neighborhood, which the parish is trying to reposition as a more hip, walkable district of local businesses.
Young said new pocket parks and better landscaping will help, as will planning initiatives for the Oakwood Center area and along Metairie Road, which the parish hopes to make more like New Orleans’ Magazine Street, with streetscape improvements and a mix of local retail and restaurant developments. He also pointed to the area around West End Boulevard at the parish line, which he said could have some development potential if Jefferson and Orleans parishes work together.
Young and Lagasse said the parish and the Regional Planning Commission are working with consultants and landowners in the area to create a master plan to guide development there.
Fairfield, 8,500 acres of largely undeveloped land, is another area ripe for large-scale residential and commercial development in line with what aging boomers and millennials are looking for, they said.
Lagasse said that while the recently expanded Huey P. Long Bridge provides better access to the West Bank, the Fairfield area will need to see new homes, hotels and retail development spring up to really tap into the increased connectivity between the east and west banks.
“We thought the bridge would bring people from the East Bank over, but it’s done just the opposite,” he said. “We need to have a reason for people to come from the East Bank to the West Bank. If we have these types of (developments), we think that will work.”
The pair also touted recent improvements to drainage and flood protection in Jefferson Parish.
Lagasse said the parish has benefited from a number of drainage and sewer projects in the years since Hurricane Katrina, and he noted the parish is halfway through extensive street improvement projects on both sides of the river. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 homes have been approved for elevation, many in highly flood-prone areas such as Lafitte, Barataria and Grand Isle.
Young said Jefferson Parish has led the way in the state in providing residential elevation grants, and he added that the $8.5 million levee recently begun around Jean Lafitte will provide a permanent flood protection solution for that community.
He said companies in the area, which always have the option of relocating to higher ground, want to know one thing: “Are we going to be safe from flooding? Are we going to be protected?”
Young said Jefferson Parish should continue to support efforts to develop a regional passenger rail system connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which could include stops at Louis Armstrong International Airport and Zephyr Field.
“We need to develop other options, other alternatives to transportation, not only to move our workforce but to move tourists throughout the state,” he said.
Young said the parish will continue to take a regional approach to economic development, teaming up with Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and St. Tammany parishes on ways to grow the metro region as a whole.
Among their other comments:
- Lagasse said he thinks the parish will have an agreement for LCMC Health to operate West Jefferson Medical Center by the end of the year. He and Young were not as optimistic about the timetable for finding an operator for East Jefferson General Hospital.
- Young said the airport is trying to get nonstop service to London.
- Young and Lagasse said the parish has been working with the New Orleans Aviation Board to make sure the airport’s half-billion-dollar new terminal won’t saddle the parish with a massive drainage problem when it’s completed. They said they are optimistic something will be worked out.