Louisiana’s new economic director to strengthen state’s focus on small business development

Business Report

New Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson Jr. told Baton Rouge area economic development leaders this morning that he will focus on strengthening the agency’s commitment to growing small businesses and laid out a map for growing the state’s economy.

The gathering took place in the conference room of the downtown Baton Rouge law office of Kean Miller LLP. Pierson told the more than 30 people assembled he also wants to tailor the state’s growing workforce to meet the job needs of companies.

Today’s meeting marked the end of Pierson’s two-week statewide tour during which he met with economic development leaders from each section of the state. The public and media were not allowed in today’s meeting, but Pierson and some local economic leaders talked to Daily Report after the talk, which lasted more than two hours.

Pierson says Gov. John Bel Edwards has given him the directive to make sure the entire state has a vibrant, thriving economy, which will require collaborative partnerships across Louisiana.

To give each part of the state the attention it needs, Pierson has broken the state down into eight economic regions. LED officials will tailor initiatives in areas of job creation and workforce development to each region after receiving input from local leaders.

“It’s important because the needs in Monroe are often different than the needs in Lake Charles,” Pierson says.

The agency will also continue focusing on its certified sites program, workforce development and building international ties.

“Anywhere that you would go in the South today, and we compete against our fellow Southern states, you would find that workforce issues are at the forefront of our profession,” Pierson says. “Corporations are going where they can have a talented workforce, so our efforts are going to be very focused on making sure that the ability of corporations to find those workers is connected to the opportunities that are array in the state.”

To create that workforce, Pierson says his agency will partner with technical and community colleges to make sure the training available in those settings meets the needs in the state.

Incentive packages, which have been criticized in recent years as corporate welfare, are a strong tool in the competition to bring businesses to Louisiana, Pierson says.

He says he wants to assure the public each company and package is heavily scrutinized. There will be benchmarks the company must meet or it will lose incentives and resources promised by the state, he says.

“In order to successfully execute, we do need to have the incentive tools available to us,” Pierson says. The company must have already invested money in the state and made strides before the state will provide the money, he adds.

“In many cases, it’s pay after performance,” Pierson says.

Pierson’s promise to strengthen the small business communities in Louisiana are music to the ears of Bob Breaux, local chapter chair for SCORE, a national small business development nonprofit.

“He’s pushing up to do more in this region,” Breaux says, and will offer organizations like SCORE more funding to do more.

Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, says the meeting was beneficial to get to know the incoming staff and to learn their priorities.

He says he was especially excited to hear about the focus on small businesses and that the agency has made collaboration a goal.

Today’s meeting comes one day after Pierson announced the addition of eight members to his executive staff, including keeping Anne Villa as the undersecretary and Mandi Mitchell as assistant secretary.

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