The coronavirus impact, economic crash, low oil prices, and strong competition from other states pushed organizations such as our Alliance to the limits.
On the state level, efforts are “led” by LED, the Louisiana Economic Development Department. Appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Don Pierson, a long-time economic development professional and friend of Southwest Louisiana, serves as secretary. In the last few months, the agency has operated on fast-evolving multiple tracks.
In January, our state and region were positioned for another record year of growth. The COVID recovery response was particularly impactful on the traditional tourism, retail, and hospitality industries.
This caused us to switch to providing information and facilitating recovery assistance. This has resulted in almost 79,000 Louisiana companies qualifying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with forgivable loans of $7.46 billion. Over 55,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) have been issued totaling $2.74 billion. The Main Street Recovery Grant Program is open and according to State Treasurer John Schroeder, has plenty of money for businesses with less than 50 employees for grants up to $15,000. And LED started the Louisiana Portfolio Guaranty Program with low-interest loans for small businesses, which are still available.
LED also launched an E-Commerce Initiative at: Lasmallbizonline.com to help our state’s businesses enhance their online retail presence. Unless businesses are online today, it will be difficult to compete.
From a competitive advantage, Louisiana and SW La. deal from strength with major assets such as ports, including the Port of Lake Charles, airports including Chennault Airpark, certified industrial sites, abundant rail, robust pipeline systems, and McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College, both of which produce a strong workforce. Louisiana was named “State of the Year” by Southern Business Development Magazine. SW La. was named the small market of the year for the 10th year in a row and our agency was named a “first-rate economic development agency in the South.”
LED FastStart earned its 11th consecutive No. 1 ranking as the top state program in America for workforce development and talent attraction.
LED and the SWLA Alliance continue to conduct meetings with site selection executives and prospects with remote-meeting technology such as Zoom. With digital technology and drone photography, we can show certified industrial sites online. Our project pipeline remains strong.
As a result of recent state legislative actions, LED and the Alliance are working to assist restaurant, hotel, and retail owners who now qualify for Quality Jobs and Enterprise Zone incentives.
Rural economic development is a priority with the Governor’s Broadband for Everyone Commission, and the Governor’s Rural Revitalization Council to stimulate growth in rural Louisiana.
LED and the Alliance have continued to execute the traditional mission of creating jobs and investment in our state. Both agencies have also executed responsibilities in crisis management, identification and assembly of resources and programs, and supported the Resilient Louisiana Commission appointed by Gov. Edwards, and cochaired by Secretary Pierson.
In the words of the secretary, “we cannot control the price of oil, fix every global supply disruption, and cannot predict when COVID-19 will be controlled, but we are seizing every opportunity to grow Louisiana’s economy in areas where we can influence.”
At the SWLA Alliance, we are proud to be a part of the LED team as one of eight regional multiparish economic development organizations in the state. This group works together and is known as the Regional Economic Alliance of Louisiana (REAL). We and the other regional organizations partner with the state and sometimes each other to bring about growth and a better quality of life for all in our state.
George Swift is president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. Contact him at 337-433-3632 or email@example.com.