Our recent Building the Region Conference gave attendees a glimpse of the prairies and industrial parks of Acadiana’s northern parishes. The aim: to highlight the economic drivers of these two parishes. Just as important as building awareness was building connections between partners. The theme of “building” continued at each stop during the full-day conference.
Breakfast and Tour at LSU Eunice
The first stop was LSU Eunice where Dr. Kimberly Russell, Chancellor of LSUE and Superintendent Patrick Jenkins spoke. As Dr. Kimberly Russell gave a welcome, the focus turned to the parish’s workforce pipeline LSU Eunice is building. Students from St. Landry and Evangeline are taking regular classes on campus to get collegiate experience. Many of the students can achieve their prerequisites before getting out of high school. Chancellor Russell was also proud to note that:
- Student head count is 5% up since 2016
- Up 22% since 2015
- Enrollment was 3,044 this fall semester
- LSUE has partnered with Lafayette General Southwest to create a nursing residency program to meet the nursing shortage in Louisiana.
This last year was a bright spot because higher education wasn’t cut. Kim Russell turned her eye to the future saying, “we need to do better with spending from the state.”
For St. Landry Superintendent Patrick Jenkins, education and economics work hand in hand.
“I believe education is the building block; it’s a critical component.” He shared. “We’re the foundation, economically.”
To that end, St. Landry secondary schools are tilling the ground for the future.
- 3 top gain schools
- In this year alone, “A” schools rose from one to three
- The Leader in Me Program has been implemented in four schools
- Eunice High School rose from a “C” to a “B” school
Evangeline Parish Industry Success
The panel at SLCC focused on the thriving industries - natural gas and healthcare have helped shape St. Landry’s economy. Wayne Bordelon of Cabot Corporation; Eugene “Gene” Burge of Savoy Medical Center; Kyle Fontenot of Pine Prairie Energy; and Billy Fontenot of Cameron/Schlumberger provided a snapshot of business growth and why companies like theirs initially chose and remain in Ville Platte – one reason beyond the natural resources: the loyal workforce.
- Cabot, which was Established in Ville Platte in 1943 because of the natural gas deposits, has 91 employees and revenue of $22 million a year
- Pine Prairie Energy Center, which has a maximum storage capacity of 62 billion cubic feet, has the nation’s largest underground storage in the country
- Savoy Medical Center, which has one of the largest psychiatric units in the area, was established 55 years ago by the Savoy family and is now owned by the city of Mamou
- Cameron, which manufactures valves critical to the oil and gas industry, completed a merger with oil service group Schlumberger in April 2016
The fact that this panel was held at an SLCC was no accident. SLCC campuses across Acadiana are training many students for these employers and are developing programs to meet the employers demands, especially the region’s dire demand for qualified nurses.
When asked by educators what these employers are looking for they answered:
- “Always looking for mechanics, welders, control operators, and looking for candidates with skills and advanced learning.” – Wayne Bordelon
- “We welcome summer interns who work in line with engineers.” – Kyle Fontenot
- “We want them local.” – Gene Burge
- “Work on the soft skills, leadership, coaching, as they grow in the company they will need these things.” – Billy Fontenot
The food provided showcased cultural restaurants of the area: Jack Millers, Poullards, Pewees, T Boys, Cajun Prairie by Lisa and Stacey, Paul’s Meat Market, Teets Food Store.
Evangeline Parish – Food, Culture, and Fun
A look at Evangeline Parish would not be complete without a glimpse of its “crown jewels: the food, the people, and the music,” according to Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine. She was there to welcome the tour to the historic La Vielle Banque for lunch and a rousing panel discussion.
Rhonda Butler, Owner of Goble Gully; Valerie Cahill, Owner of Hotel Cazan; Kermit Miller, Owner of Jack Miller’s Bar-B-Que Sauce; and moderator Camille Fontenot Director of the Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce highlighted how the people of the parish are a highly tangible asset – they build the brand being sold.
Valerie, a business woman whose hotel sees many of the area’s visitors summed things up, saying, “It’s as quirky as it is quaint, and drawing in people from Francophone countries – especially at Mardi Gras, but Ville Platte has capacity, meaning it can take on more.”
Swamp Pop Museum Tour
The tour of the Swamp Pop Museum ended the Evangeline leg of the tour. Music is an enduring form of entertainment in Acadiana, and it was Mark Layne’s vision to have a museum for the Swamp Pop genre and declare Evangeline Parish the Swamp Pop Capital of the World. His passion for Swamp Pop Music continues, as he now serves as the General Manager of local radio station KVPI.
St. Landry Parish
St. Landry Transportation & Distribution
A tour of the WalMart Distribution Center showed off the over 1 million square feet of sorting and storing space.
- With 950 associates, this top employer draws in workforce not just from St. Landry Parish, but from a number of surrounding parishes.
- It is the only Distribution Center of its kind in Louisiana, serving all WalMarts in the state, as well as a few WalMarts in Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.
- Access to I-49, a remote area, and a workforce were crucial to the WalMart Distribution Center’s location decision.
Using Economic Districts as a Blueprint for the Future
Attendees were treated to a bus ride - presented by Bill Rodier, Executive Director, St. Landry Economic Development - through the parish’s economic districts and introduced to the taxing districts. St. Landry Parish is using economic development districts as a tool for helping local government go from being reactive to proactive in their growth and planning. These districts include the Opelousas Downtown Development District, the Grand Coteau Economic Development District, and the newly expanded Central St. Landry Economic Development District along the I-49 corridor. Taxing authority within district boundaries will help fund infrastructure upgrades and make the districts more attractive for business investment.
Creative Placemaking Panel & Private Reception
The tour wound down with a visit to NuNu Arts and Culture Collective where attendees heard from a panel about Creative Placemaking, something St. Landry Parish is serious about. This parish is tapping into its cultural economy in a unique way and working hard through a Placemaking Taskforce on initiatives like:
- Gaining Arnaudville recognition as a French immersion area by the French consulate
- Blending the conservation of culture with the growth of industry by creating a hanging garden out of disused industrial pipes of a pipe manufacturing plant
- Sponsoring arts projects and competitions for murals
The panel included George Marks, Founder of NuNu Arts and Culture Collective, Cherie Hebert, Owner of BBR Creative, Lena Charles, Board Member, St. Landry Parish Economic Development.
While visual artist George Marks wears many hats, he is also involved in Cherie’s endeavor into placemaking: building “Tee Tiny Houses.” Hers is the first business in Louisiana to do so. The seminal project, named “The Shiny Tiny” by locals is even available to rent on AirBnb and “designed for folks that enjoy unique and creative spaces, especially those interested in the tiny house movement.”
For those who lived and worked in Acadiana for most of their lives, Building the Region Conference meant an opportunity to connect with fellow One Acadiana investors and members, and see first-hand the region’s business growth, culture, and potential. For those new to the area, like Chesley Schaffeld - a brand new employee of member company Towny – Building the Region Conference was the “perfect way to jump feet-first into meeting new people and learn about my new market.