Moving Forward with a ‘Can Do’ Attitude
St. Landry Parish, LA
St. Landry Parish was founded in 1807 and is centrally located in southwest Louisiana in a region rich in Cajun and Acadian culture. It has twelve incorporated communities with a total population of 84,000 and is one of the state’s sixty-four parishes.
It has been said that reputation is everything. Achieving one requires consistency, loyalty and a commitment to uphold the highest of values. This is true not only for individuals, but businesses and communities. A good reputation speaks volumes about the favorable business climates, competitiveness and livability of any given communities. Rankings are useful indicators of a community’s performance levels and subsequent reputations, and Louisiana has some impressive rankings that make it worthy of closer investment and livability considerations.
Louisiana achieved the number four position for business climate ranking in 2015 according to Site Selection magazine and ranked in the top ten for the fifth consecutive year, according to Area Development magazine’s list of top states for doing business.
Perhaps more importantly, Louisiana is the happiest state according to a recent paper released by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research. But business, economic, and cultural leaders in St. Landry Parish are not leaving their reputation to chance. A consortium of agencies ranging from the parish government to economic developers and tourism, education, and law enforcement agencies, have begun an aggressive campaign called “We’re Moving Forward” to tell its story both locally and across the globe. A primary component of the campaign is the SLPForward.com website.
Louisiana and Alaska are the only two states that don’t have boundaries referred to as counties. Historically a territory of the Catholic countries of Spain, then France, land in Louisiana was originally divided according to church parish boundaries and in later decades the practice continued even though church and civil jurisdictions no longer exactly coincided.
The approximately 1000-square-mile St. Landry Parish is ideally located with Interstate I-49 dividing it north and south and U.S. 190 running east to west allowing the Parish a competitive edge in transportation assets.
Bill Rodier, Executive Director of St. Landry Economic Development (SLED), says that the parish is also, “about seventeen or eighteen miles north of the I-10, which is one of the busiest east-west thoroughfares in the United States. Roadway transportation is a huge, huge resource for us.”
In addition to efficient highway systems, the parish has the Port of Krotz Springs on the Atchafalaya River on the eastern boundary of the parish, offering a thirteen-foot-draft outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Union Pacific rail line parallels U.S. 190.
St. Landry Parish Airport (also known as Ahart Field), located near the parish seat of Opelousas, is Southwest Louisiana’s most accessible general aviation airport. There are additional airports nearby including Alexandria and Baton Rouge Internationals and Lafayette and Eunice Regional Airports.
The efficiency of the parish’s transportation systems is proving to be an asset in enabling the movement of goods, in gaining access to a workforce from other regions and in the attraction of consumers and tourists.
Rodier acknowledges that its excellent transportation systems have been a part of the parish’s strength but have not been capitalized to their full potential. St. Landry Parish Economic Development is planning to change perceptions about its transportation assets by creating infrastructure to put, “mechanisms in to allow communities located along these corridors to really kind of jump start development by making areas along those thoroughfares more attractive to business.”
“We sit at a very, very good position that way, now that we are talking with our communities about being very pro-business in the way that they’re looking at their development. That’s just enhancing what’s been there all along. I think businesses are starting to take notice of that,” Rodier said.
The Acadiana region – the twenty-two parishes that comprise French Louisiana – is “experiencing tremendous growth,” and St. Landry Parish is gaining recognition because of that. The parish is well positioned for growth within multiple sectors including healthcare, energy manufacturing, food and beverage production, transportation distribution, and tourism.
Agriculture and aquaculture are prominent economic arenas, and crawfish production is a strong driver with shipments made throughout the U.S. and exports to international markets. “Transportation distribution is also a growing industry here in St. Landry Parish that’s directly piggybacking on transportation infrastructure,” Rodier says.
A Wal-Mart distribution center, constructed in 2000 and located in Opelousas, is one of the parish’s largest employers in the transportation and distribution industry.
Also located in Opelousas, is Dixie Storage, which is, “a warehouse and distribution operation that flies under the radar but has significant resources in multiple communities here in St. Landry Parish.” Dixie provides warehousing services for such companies as Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and the Keystone Pipeline. “I suspect we’ll continue to see a growth in [distribution and warehousing] to further capitalize on our transportation infrastructure.”
Continued growth is expected in the food processing industry as a direct result of the region’s rich cultural heritage. “We have numerous companies, both established and developing,” Rodier says. “The food culture is a very, very prominent part of the Cajun and Creole culture of St. Landry.”
Traditional oilfield services have a substantial impact on the parish, and the energy sector has been a key force behind the state’s growing economy. Hazelwood Energy Hub recently announced plans to build a $400 million blending facility – the world’s largest – in St. Landry Parish for the storage and blending of various types of crude oil. Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama were other considerations for the facility, but Hazelwood decided on Louisiana and will take advantage of Louisiana’s Quality Jobs Program. This program offers cash rebates for companies that promote economic development and job creation.
The Hazelwood Project has the potential to capitalize on the substantial infrastructure assets already in place in the form of highways, rail, the port and pipelines says Rodier. “This could lay the foundation for some of those huge industrial investment projects to start growing the potential here in St. Landry Parish.” Construction is expected to begin in 2016 with completion in 2018.
Another great potential for the creation of jobs and subsequent energy investment spinoffs for the parish is a planned project in the Lake Charles area, one hundred miles to St. Landry Parish’s west. The Lake Charles liquefied natural gas (LNG) project recently received approval from the U.S. Department of Energy for the construction and operation of an export facility, with a conditional authorization to export fifteen million metric tons of LNG annually.
“We are positioning ourselves in Louisiana to be the exclusive exporter of LNG products from the U.S. to overseas markets. So it’s really turning the tables. Louisiana has grown from just being a traditional oil and gas manufacturing [and] transportation distribution hub to really opening it up on a major scale, with LNG product export to an international market. Lake Charles is changing the workforce demand in St. Landry. It’s a good challenge to have,” in Rodier’s estimation.
Electric utility goods and services provider Crest Industries in located in Pineville, Rapides Parish, fifty-five miles to St. Landry’s north. It plans to expand into St. Landry Parish by building a new $5 million cutting and fabrication facility in Eunice through the acquisition and expansion of Precision Cutting Specialties, an industrial equipment supplier. At least twenty-four additional jobs will be created.
Another noteworthy project in St. Landry’s near future is the expansion of Noble Plastics Incorporated, which was established in 2000 and is located in Grand Coteau. The company manufactures injection molding for the U.S. market and will increase its production capabilities through the purchase of an unused bottling plant in Opelousas.
“We have so many good things going on in St. Landry Parish,” says Rodier, adding that Noble Plastics is soon to open another facility nearby.
With all this activity currently underway or projected, St. Landry Economic Development is planning for the growth of its communities and utilizing tools so that communities can, “prepare themselves for growth and be proactive to growth rather than reactive to growth.”
There are incentives in place to help attract new business interests and to help them become established, grow and prosper in St. Landry Parish. Equally important are those well-established businesses that have a significant role to play in moving the parish’s economy forward. “We treat our existing businesses as the special component to St. Landry Parish that they are,” affirms Rodier.
St. Landry Parish has two industrial parks. One is a fully-serviced 422-acre park in Opelousas and the other a 115-acre quasi-industrial park by Wal-Mart’s distribution center located near the I-49. This park “does have infrastructure resources available right now for businesses to move in, but just not quite as formalized in its structure as the Opelousas Park.” The park is focused on timber-related production industries. There are plans to look at the potential of additional business parks directly on the I-49 corridor.
There are two institutes of higher learning in the parish: T.H. Harris campus of South Louisiana Community College with two locations in Opelousas and Louisiana State University (LSU) in Eunice. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, located less than 20 miles from St Landry Parish, closes the education loop with a full range of four year and graduate degree programs.
To accommodate the needs of the area’s major employers, “T.H. Harris has doubled the capacity in technical related programs.” says Rodier. Louisiana State University at Eunice is further expanding to offer professional certificate programs. “We expect to see a large expansion of that over the next year.”
The St Landry Parish K-12 school system also continues to boost emphasis on meeting the needs of area employers through the continued growth of three trades’ skill-related high school campuses offering a broad range of programs, from culinary to welding. In addition, the Opelousas High Bio Med Academy has been an effective launching pad for hundreds of area high school students into the growing area network of medical related services.
Building quality leaders for the future is a priority in St Landry Parish. This process begins with first class education through entities such as the Sacred Heart Academy, recognized by Best Schools as one of the top fifty Christian High Schools in America. Also, the Westminster Christian Academy, which ranked in the top 30 in Christian Schools in Louisiana bring students in from around the region, the county and the world for high level education opportunities.
This building process continues through direct partnership in community and leadership development programs with all three area universities, and further through formal leadership development initiatives offered through the growing St Landry Professionals.
“Partnerships with our employers, our community leadership, our education providers, our regional economic development partner, One Acadiana, and with Louisiana Economic Development (LED) are vital to St. Landry Economic Development.” It consults with the area’s top twenty-five employers to discern what’s important to them, what area of the workforce needs development, and then it does what is needed to ensure favorable outcomes. “It’s really all about relationships,” says Rodier. “Relationships we have with our colleges, with our K-12 system and with our top employers in the community.”
It would be impossible to paint a picture of St. Landry Parish without discussing the intrinsic value of its cultural heritage and economy. Economic development is built within the framework of a community’s assets and strengths that enable a competitive advantage. In St. Landry Parish and the state of Louisiana itself, culture is its competitive advantage. This is the precursor to its high quality of life and the key to its long-term growth and sustainability.
“The Cajun culture is a huge resource that exists here. [It] has an economic impact that’s undeniable… We are recognized in St. Landry Parish as one of only two places in North America, by the French consulate, to have their blessing to have French immersion programs.
But Cajuns are not the only French speakers in St. Landry Parish. Opelousas, the parish seat, is one of the oldest communities in Louisiana—it will celebrate its tricentennial in 2020—and as such has long been the home to French families who were among the original settlers of the state. Additionally, French-speaking black Creoles who came to Louisiana in the early 1800s have had a significant influence on the parish culture.
“It is the combination of cultures found here that make us unique,” Rodier said.
“From the time you start talking to us to the time you open your door and beyond, you’re special here in St. Landry Parish,” he says. “You’re a valued commodity here in our parish because we take the time to establish those relationships. There are so many opportunities out here. It would be hard to match that quality of life opportunity anywhere else in the country.” Reason enough, it seems, for the happiest state accolade.