From Jeff Salois,

Ward 3 Councilman, Louisiana

There seems to be some confusion as to what economic development entails.  I have recently been given a crash course in economic development and studied as much as I can in a short time in order to be effective in my position as chairman of the economic development committee [of the Louisiana City Council].

I have learned a few things I would like to share with the public.  

X does not mark the spot in economic development.  Louisiana is one of tens of thousands of small towns throughout the country trying for a chance at a large industry looking to expand, move or start.  It is not about who makes the first phone call and gets an answer.  If it was that easy to get an industry to move into the community, then anyone in town could be successful at bringing in industry.

Being a town is not the only requirement.  When a company is looking to expand they send out a list of requirements and disqualifications to communities in the general area they are looking at.  When these lists are received by the city the first phase is looking through the list to see if we meet the requirements in order to move on to the next phase.  Generally if we have a disqualification then we are out of the running.  What are some of these requirements are looked at?  This list is far too long to type here but they consist of items such as; building and land space, transportation, work force, population, proximity of land and building space to transportation, first responder training, weather, flooding, proximity of schools and nursing homes, and various other issues that companies are concerned with.

What are the areas we struggle with?  Land and building space is one.  It is very hard to find 40 acres in the city along the river, in fact, it's impossible. Work force is the hardest and most common rejection.  The “skills gap” that you hear about on the news is very prevalent in our area and should be the most up front and concerning problem to our community.  What does this mean?  It means our area is known for having an unprepared workforce.  That does not mean that we are lazy but it means our available workforce is behind the curve when it comes to the needs of industries.  I’ll let you figure out what those solutions are.

A rising tide lifts all ships.  We all have to shop at WalMart at times, it's just a fact of rural life.  However, ask yourself how much of that money spent actually goes back to your community in the form of services.  The answer is none.  Shopping locally is more expensive, of course it is, it has to be, it’s basic economics.  Remember that some of the items you buy at WalMart are often special items made just for WalMart.  Cheaper, lower quality.    The city is in a predicament with falling revenues, some in the city believe that tax increase might be the solution.  I am not convinced.  I can tell you one issue that could help.  Shop locally.  Increasing sales tax revenue will help tremendously.  On the flip side of that there are businesses in the community who work in every possible way to avoid paying taxes.  I am fine with companies doing there best to make money and be successful but when you do that you have to understand that city services suffer.

I understand everyone’s frustration with a falling budget and falling revenue but it is not easy to find businesses.  The businesses that we have need help desperately.  Treasure hunters are myths and works of fiction.  Economic development is an art and a science.  

Getting in our own way.  We all know the opportunities we, as a community, have let slip through our fingers.  May they rest in peace.  The headlines that come out of the local papers are concerning.  I feel that there is a search for scandal where there is obviously no scandal.  I worry about the sensationalism in our media coverage that you expect from sweeps week.

Send letters to the editors on issues of public concern to athorp@pikecountynews.com

Send questions and comments to athorp@pikecountynews.com.

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