The Business Report

Leaders from companies representing three of the biggest jewels in Louisiana’s economic development crown—Sasol, CenturyLink, and DXC Technologies, which is developing a facility in New Orleans—discussed the many reasons they chose to invest in Louisiana over competing markets at a panel discussion earlier today at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Annual Statewide Economic Development Summit.

Among the factors cited: aggressive recruitment efforts by Louisiana Economic Development; an adequate supply of well-trained workers; regional cooperation among cities and economic development agencies; and support from the business community.

“What pushed us over the top was the vigorous ownership from LED and the governor’s office to promote this project and push this project,” said Michael Hayes, manager, government and industry affairs, Sasol North America, which is developing an $11 billion chemical facility in Westlake.

Added Terrell Boynton, director of DXC Technology’s Digital Transformation Center in New Orleans: “What we’re building here … will send a message that New Orleans and Louisiana is a place to come.”

But just minutes before the panelists took the stage with LED Secretary Don Pierson, the panel moderator, to extol the virtues of doing business in Louisiana, U.S. News and World Report released its annual survey of Best States, ranking Louisiana dead last for the second consecutive year.

Asked how the state’s dismal performance on the survey—which drew on more than 77 metrics across eight categories to measure outcomes for citizens in each state—squared with the rosy outlook on the panel, Pierson was somewhat defensive.

“What we find is if you’re going to put us on a scale and talk about birthweight of babies, mortality, a number of factors that are not in our economic development lane then maybe you’re going to arrive in a place like that,” he said. “We would want you to look at a list of how many projects we land, how much foreign capital we have invested here because that is what we look at … we’re proud to be in Louisiana.”

CenturyLink Senior Vice President John Jones, however, acknowledged that his Fortune 500 company, one of just two in Louisiana, works hard to battle against the negative perceptions such rankings create.

“What we have found is that we have had to take control of our own message,” he said, adding CenturyLink, which is developing its own mixed-use community on a 90-acre former orchard across from its campus, often has to bring potential workers to Monroe to see the city and the campus for themselves.

“Then when once we get people there … and they see what we have to offer, that usually wins the day,” he said.

But it’s not just a perception problem, he said. The state has a couple of major problems that it has to address if it wants to be competitive. “Education is our biggest problem,” he said. “We have to work on that.”