River Parishes impress on familiarization tour

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 17, 2009



LAPLACE – Corporate leaders who make decisions on where certain companies should locate or relocate said during a recent tour of the greater New Orleans area that the River Parishes region is one of the most valuable corridors for inland water industrial activity.

During a three-day familiarization tour of St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes, seven of the nation’s leading site selectors were educated on the assets and opportunities found in the tri-parish area. The tour was sponsored by Greater New Orleans Inc., an organization that coordinates economic development opportunities across 10 area parishes.

“Our region has an extraordinary range of natural assets, lucrative incentives and new investment that make it one of the most compelling places in the country for business expansion,” said GNO Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht said. “Familiarization tours highlight regional positives and give us insight to the challenges that lie before us.”

Austin Marks, GNO Inc. chief of staff, said the tours are typically done quarterly and draw an average of five to 10 site selectors from New York, Chicago, California and nations abroad. He said the site selectors assist corporate leaders in deciding the best places to set up shop.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Marks said. “These guys were not prepared to see the progress we have made in the years since Hurricane Katrina. They did not realize the assets we have out here.”

The group took an aerial tour of industrial sites along the river and listened to presentations from representatives of each of the River Parishes. The underlying theme of the presentations was an emphasis on unity within the region.

“All three parishes work together to bring industry to the region,” said St. Charles Parish Economic Development and Tourism Director Corey Faucheaux. “In most cases, we don’t care whose site gets picked so long as the industry stays in the River Parishes. The selectors told us they rarely see this level of community partnership.”

Faucheux explained that population numbers, which average at about 50,000 across the three parishes, are the driving force behind the cohesion. He said if a site selector were to look at the parishes individually, it wouldn’t necessarily warrant a closer look.

“When you lump us all together as one region we end up looking like a larger community,” Faucheaux said. “Many residents of one parish drive to work every day in another parish, so it is logical to work as one region.”

Mark Sweeny, senior principal with Greenville, S.C.-based McCallum Sweeny Consulting, was one of the seven selectors on the tour. He explained his clients are becoming increasingly interested in multiple modes of transportation, including water-borne, because of the need to be flexible in how goods are transported. He said one of the key strengths of the River Parishes is quick and ample access to the Mississippi River.

“It is a real strength for the country to have a corridor like this,” Sweeny said. “There are a lot of available properties that would provide waterfront and direct water and potential barge access.”

Sweeny added the present industry already in place is an additional positive because vital infrastructure, like rails and highways, is already available.

Other positives identified during the tour included the “multimodal” aspect of transportation in the region. Faucheux said the selectors were very high on the fact that the area not only has access to major roads rails, but it is also very close to two major cities and an international airport.

The selectors also learned more about industry incentives such as the Gulf Opportunity Zone federal tax incentives and other lucrative job-based incentives.

On the other side, Sweeny also addressed some of the negatives that big businesses see when they look at the region. He said business leaders are realizing that there are assets in Louisiana, but still see concerns over the region’s vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding as a challenge to business recruitment efforts.

St. John Parish spokesman Buddy Boe said each parish did their best to address the concerns over the hurricane threat.

“We explained that St. John and the River Parishes were some of the first dry land in the post-Katrina days,” Boe said. “We were back in business as soon as the lights came back on, and business flourished in the post hurricane aftermath.”

Marks added that when GNO Inc. organizes tours of this kind, the group tries to knock the point across that tragedy can strike anywhere in the world.

“We emphasize the progress we have made in our efforts to better protect ourselves from the next storm threat,” Marks said.