Collaboration, workforce development among hot topics at Statewide Economic Development Summit

Business Report

Collaboration among all of Louisiana’s economic development organizations is the key to the state’s growth, the state’s new economic development head stressed today during Louisiana’s 2016 Statewide Economic Development Summit at L’Auberge Casino & Hotel.

At the conference—Louisiana’s first statewide economic development summit in a decade—LED Secretary Don Pierson Jr. continued to emphasize the message he has carried through his first 100 days in office.

“We win when we cross the finish line together,” Pierson said. “We win when we beat adversity, adversity does not beat us. We win when we recruit industry together, when we certify our sites, when we support small business, when we develop our communities and when we develop a world-class workforce.”

In his wide-ranging 45-minute speech delivered during the summit’s opening session, Pierson touched on the importance of workforce development, the strides made to strengthen LED since he took office and his plan to grow the state’s economy.

He touted eight projects that have been announced during his tenure, including OxyChem’s $145 million planned expansion of its Geismar manufacturing plant, and the 53 projects in the pipeline that could bring $20 billion in capital investment and more than 13,800 jobs to Louisiana.

LED officials have also added six new Certified Sites, bringing the total to 65, and have spoken with more than 40 site consultants about locations throughout the state, Pierson said.

The secretary also emphasized workforce development, saying low-skilled jobs are becoming extinct, and that skilled, educated workers are needed to fill the needs of businesses moving to Louisiana.

“Our most important job is to attract and win jobs in our state, but this requires an exceptional workforce,” he said. “Workforce availability, productivity and the level of skill are always cited as top decision factors for site selectors.”

To that end, LED is focusing on education, beginning in elementary school and through higher education, to make sure workers get the education they need for the jobs coming into the state.

“We’ve got to make this a top priority, we’ve got to focus on aligning our workforce efforts with industry needs,” Pierson said, reiterating a mantra Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, has used.

Also this morning, Didi Caldwell, co-founder and senior principal for Global Location Strategies and an expert in site selection, told attendees Louisiana is attractive for businesses because of the low cost of electricity, fairly low labor costs, and the logistical benefits of the Mississippi River and the railroad system.

“The cost gets you in the game, but if you don’t have the proper infrastructure, the proper workforce, you’re going to be eliminated,” Caldwell said.

In an interview after Pierson and Caldwell concluded their remarks, Knapp said it is important to get economic development leaders from across the state in one room to talk about their issues, especially when the state Legislature is in session.

“Economic development has been something of a boogeyman in the debates in the session as if it’s part of the problem and causing damage somehow,” Knapp says. “Economic development is part of the solution of how do you get jobs and how do you create growth. And to have that conversation happening today has been helpful.”

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