GNO group head sees great regional potential

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 23, 2012



DESTREHAN – Bolstered by a string of major industrial projects getting under way in various parts of the region, the prospect of positive economic potential in the River Parishes is becoming unparalleled in the state, according to the head of a 10-parish economic alliance.

Speaking with members of the River Region Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon at Ormond Plantation, Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., told the assembled business leaders and elected officials from St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes that the region is becoming “the most exciting region in the state when it comes to economic potential.”

“The region has more prosperity than we have ever seen,” Hecht said. “There are currently seven projects in motion worth more than $2.5 billion in assets that will create more than 2,100 jobs. We have industry competing for land out here.”

Hecht said the kingpin project in the region is the construction of Nucor Corp.’s planned five-phase steel plant in Convent, but he also mentioned a series of smaller facilities that are bringing in jobs and assets. He also referenced expansion projects at Valero’s St. Charles refinery, Nalco’s Garyville facility and NuStar’s chemical storage terminal in St. James Parish.

“The fact is, there are more real, live prospects in the River Region, on the scale of Nucor, than anyone remembers in history,” Hecht said. “Factors like proximity to the Mississippi River, a great business climate and growing brand recognition are all working in the region’s favor.”

Hecht said the main challenge facing the region is a properly trained workforce ready to take on the multitude of industrial jobs being created. He said strong relationships with technical colleges and four-year universities are key.

“Industry needs to work with schools to give them a sense of what skills the workforce needs to take on these jobs,” Hecht said. “The two- and four-year colleges then need to develop the right programs that cater to industry. This is a chance to get more people to come here to this region to stay. Like New Orleans, people live in the River Parishes by choice, and we want them to stay.”

Hecht said GNO Inc. has worked over the past four years to build a stronger relationship with the River Parishes. He said in the past, there was almost no relationship in the region.

“We didn’t do a good enough job getting out here to forge relationships in the region,” Hect said. “We want to make sure we include the leaders in St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes in our structure.”

Hecht said the region will be a major player in GNO Inc.’s “Super Region” structure that encompasses south Louisiana from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

“We want you to be in on the decisions we are making for the region,” Hecht said. “People around the world know New Orleans, and they are starting to get to know this region when it comes to industrial development.”