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Sunday, September 16, 2018



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Development agency to focus on economic diversity

Development agency to focus on economic diversity

 

THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — To address the struggling local economy, the South Louisiana Economic Council wants to help retain and expand area businesses and aggressively market the bayou region to new industries.

That's part of the economic development agency's 2017-19 strategic plan.

"We plan to be aggressive in preparing for these good changes coming," SLEC president Vic Lafont said. "But the main thing right now is how to keep the ship from sinking. We've lost a lot of good people already. The good news is that it's going to come back. How we do with that come back will determine how we do with the next downturn."

Houma-Thibodaux, a metro area comprised of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, has lost about 12,000 jobs over the past two years amid the worst oil bust since the 1980s. State figures released last week show the area lost 900 jobs last month alone. The November jobless rate was at 6 percent.

SLEC's plan offers five goals the organization hopes to achieve over the three-year period. These goals include advocating for the expansion of infrastructure important to economic development and advocating for issues important to the region's business community.

SLEC focuses on regional economic development in the parishes of Assumption, Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne as a strategic partner of Louisiana Economic Development, according to its website.

The agency sent a survey to local businesses, nonprofits, and government officials to help find the best areas where its services could be beneficial.

The survey results showed quality of life and waterways with ocean port access were the region's most competitive qualities for attracting new business. A lack of a rail service and access to a major airport were the least competitive.

Working to advance the Houma-Thibodaux to La. 3127 Connection and Interstate 49 plans and continuing to support the La. 1 corridor development are some of the ways the organization said it plans to help improve with the least competitive areas.

"We are blessed with a lot of things," Lafont said. "We have a university here. We have health care systems that are second to none in this region. We have a deepwater port, an intermediate port and a shallow-water port. We have the fly bait, but what is stretched is our infrastructure."

Survey respondents also said diversifying the economy, helping existing business expand and working with federal and state legislators to change regulatory policies to benefit local businesses are needed to grow the economy.

"We've tried to diversify away completely from oil and gas, but it's never going to happen," Lafont said. "What we did do successfully is diversify from within our industry. For example, Bollinger Shipyards, instead of building boats to service the offshore rigs, they got Coast Guard contracts. The common denominator is the infusion of technology."

The organization said it will participate in area industry-specific trade shows and brand the region as a recognized symbol of quality workmanship and products.

SLEC said it will also push improvement of the business climate with incentives, workforce training, fiscal policy and education partnerships. That includes focus on quality of life issues such as improved health care.

"If you live long enough in this business," Lafont said, "your hindsight becomes foresight. We're not sitting on our hands waiting for it to get better. We're preparing for the rebound and with that comes a lot of planning and preparation."

The 2017-2019 Strategic Plan can be found on the SLEC's website at http://bayouregion.com/.

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Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com