Economic development continuing in NELA amid COVID-19

The North Louisiana Economic Partnership is working hard to further economic growth amid COVID-19.
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 11:05 AM CST
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - In a time when the coronavirus pandemic has crippled businesses, experts say it’s now more important than ever to bring businesses here to Northeast Louisiana.

Two nonprofit groups are driving forces behind area development, the North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP) and the Northeast Alliance of Louisiana.

The Northeast Alliance of Louisiana is looking ahead to some new economic developments in NELA after a trying year.

They’re similar organizations but have different coverage areas. They both are in charge of marketing Louisiana Economic Development Certified Sites to prospective employers. These sites are shovel ready for construction. The groups are funded through investments from cities and other businesses in the area.

“They put a lot of the leg work into finding out all the environmentals on sites, what utilities are available, what tax incentives are available, so they pre-package this thing along with other partners such as Entergy to certify sites,” says Monroe Mayor Friday Ellis.

Ellis says they invested $50,000 for the next year and West Monroe Mayor Staci Mitchell says they invested around $6,000.

“We essentially do three things. We do business attraction, business retention and expansion, and advocacy,” says Elizabeth Pierre, NLEP’s Senior Vice President.

She says things slowed down at the beginning of the pandemic, but they’re starting to ramp up again. For now, though, the way they market our community has shifted. She says they’d usually be flying out to cities to market our region or have employers fly to North Louisiana to see sites in person.

“We’ve done marketing brochures for some of our properties. We’ve done a video pad where we’re able to do videos and send that to them in the mail so they’re able to see that if they’re not able to come out to the property,” explains Pierre.

Recently, Pierre says Coast Professional expanded in West Monroe instead of New York, and they were able to create more than 100 new jobs.

“We call NLEP all the time. When we need data, when we need research, when we have questions, when we have, again, people that call us and say, ‘hey, is there any land available?’” says West Monroe Mayor Staci Mitchell.

And business is looking up for Tana Trichel, the President and CEO of the Northeast Alliance of Louisiana

“We have several projects in the hopper,” says Trichel. “Two, that I know, that are absolutely certain going to come. Smaller companies in Monroe. We have two expansions that we’re working with the companies on. We have a Lake Providence project.”

Trichel has been working with the group for years and says their crowning achievement would probably be Lamb Weston, a food processing company in Richland Parish known for its potato products.

“We have four sites under certification at the moment. We’re adding four more next year,” says Trichel.

But, one of their crown jewel sites is the Franklin Farm plot, which is over 1,400 acres in Richland Parish. People have been interested, but she says they wanted to split up the site. And Trichel doesn’t want to do that when a big company could come in and bring thousands of jobs, plus she has other smaller sites that could fit a smaller company’s needs perfectly.

“We have been the bridesmaids many times. We’ve presented to Toyota. We were the number 2 site. We presented to Caterpillar. We were the number 2 site. We presented to Volkswagen. We were in the top three,” says Trichel. “[..] The best piece of dirt in the world can’t bring someone where they don’t want to go.”

Every company is different as to why they chose another place to expand, but Trichel says a lot of it has to do with not having the necessary workforce and also needing improved roadways.

“We’ve had a declining population. That hurts us. We’ve also had outward migration.”

To help the area, she’s working with Louisiana Delta Community College to make education more accessible with a mobile classroom.

“To offer them an opportunity to go from minimum wage to one of these high paying, high demand jobs through education. Through our effort and their effort, we can make a difference,” says Trichel.

She’s hoping a gas tax to fund roadways in Louisiana will pass in next year’s legislative session, because she believes the state of our roads and bridges affect their ability to bring employers here.

“When a company’s truck has to bump along the road and it wears their truck out sooner, that’s pure economic development,” says Trichel.

Pierre says the future does look bright and while she can’t tell us the names of companies looking to expand here, she says there is a trend in the type of companies who want to relocate.

“Manufacturing continues to be a large part of our pipeline. In fact, most of the time, about 75% of the projects we’re working on have been manufacturing products. A lot lately have been wood-related products or forestry-related products,” says Pierre.

Both mayors say they’re excited about next year because they believe Northeast Louisiana has a lot to offer.

“We’re big, obviously, in the tree industry, the timber industry, and the paper industry, and there are so many things that can do, so many businesses that can come here, that will support that industry,” says Mitchell.

“One of the biggest sectors I see is like nutraceuticals, and pet foods, and things like that that we can bring these producers closer to the source of what they put inside of their packaging. We’ve got Graphic Packaging that can make them any kind of packaging that they want,” says Ellis.

“Growth from within is our bread and butter,” adds Trichel.

To see all the Certified Sites in Louisiana, you can visit the Louisiana Economic Development website.

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