Presidents agree Katrina spurred growth

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 1, 2006



DESTREHAN — The annual &#8220state of the River Region” talk from the three parish presidents took on special meaning here at Destrehan Plantation on Thursday, considering the post-Katrina return to commerce facing the entire area.

The River Region Chamber hosted its annual &#8220Parish Presidents Forum” at Destrehan Plantation, giving all three region parish presidents an opportunity to update the business community on the way things are going following Katrina.

The consensus from all was that the hurricane has spurred economic development, while bringing some new challenges.

St. John Parish President Nickie Monica cited a long list of new ventures in his parish, headed by the most recent announcement of a $140 million petroleum tank farm being planned for Garyville. He noted job expansion at major businesses like Cargill, Marathon, Nalco and others, while also pointing out four new public facilities in the War Veterans Home, the new V.A. Clinic, the St. John Senior Center, and the Louisiana National Guard facility.

St. Charles Parish President Albert Laque also noted some huge, multi-million expansions to Monsanto, Valero, Motiva and Entergy, and said there is a new light manufacturing company which has now confirmed plans to come to the parish. He was not yet at liberty to announce the name of the company.

And even in St James Parish further west, Parish President Dale Hymel called the economic development there &#8220something like we’ve never seen” as he has had 12 prospective companies considering his parish for relocation, with one already having purchased land, and four others considering land buys.

&#8220Before the hurricane, the River Region was showing solid growth and economic development,” Chamber Founding Chairman Conley Dutreix said. &#8220But since the storm, we are seeing growth at a higher level, and the potential to be huge. Now it’s important we manage it in the right way.”

Monica pointed out the large number of new jobs coming to St. John from a few of the additions. The War Veterans Home will bring 175 permanent jobs, the VA clinic will bring 40 jobs, and the new Community Center, with the Louisiana Sound Stage, should bring at least $3 million to $4 million alone in economic boost here annually.

The Louisiana National Guard facility, a $15 million building that will take about 18 months to build, will give the parish a local presence of the U.S. military, while an expansion at Nalco will bring 65 new jobs.

Marathon has already gone public with a massive expansion costing $2.2 billion, which will bring 2,000 to 4,000 construction jobs before the final permanent jobs, while Cargill is building a sugar refinery here. The tank farm, estimated to be about two years off from opening, will bring 50 more permanent jobs.

Monica did acknowledge the challenge facing St. John, however, with the need to increase sewage capacity here, and finish the already approved water treatment plant upgrades.

&#8220We really hope to have a solution for the sewage problem within the month,” he said.

In St. Charles, Laque said that the parish brought in $4 million more in sales tax revenue in 2005 than was expected due to the hurricane recovery work, although he doesn’t expect that number to stay that high. However the new businesses should help the parish to keep growing.

&#8220With the business expansions we have, and the new manufacturer coming, and another major company corporate headquarters which is coming here, it will help our growth to continue,” he said. &#8220But we are now looking at the new hurricane season and trying to be prepared. We need to have better communications in many areas, which we are working on having in place.”

Hymel believes a lot of the business growth as far as St. James is due to companies wanting to get to higher ground after the hurricane.

&#8220We see a lot of good things coming to St. James, and we have some good infrastructure improvements planned to accommodate the growth,” he said.

Hymel pointed out a $1.4 million road overlay already approved, and nine miles of River Road that will additionally get overlay. Three routes are currently being considered as hurricane evacuation routes.