New committee focusing on industrial growth

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 31, 2013

BY Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – Sen. Troy Brown recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the Southeast Louisiana Task force for Growth and Opportunity in Gonzales.
The special group was created to design policy and programs to accommodate the growth of public service needs that will stem from new projects and expansions along the Mississippi River. The group will work with chambers of commerce, state entities and local municipalities to compile a comprehensive assessment of needs assessment based on specific requirements identified in each parish. Funding for additional public services would come from grants and government-approved funds that support the development of human resources, transportation, health care, law enforcement, housing, education and infrastructure throughout the River Parishes.
Brown introduced legislation creating SEL-GO during the 2013 legislative session in anticipation of the influx of more than 6,000 direct and indirect jobs along the Mississippi River corridor, specifically St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension and Iberville parishes.
SEL-GO is comprised of two representatives from each parish. The members are: Rusty Rebowe and John Harmon of St. Charles Parish; Steve Nosacka and Aspen Steib of St. James Parish; Larry Sorapuru Jr. and Carl Monica of St. John Parish; Sherrie Despino and Stevie Graugnard of Ascension Parish; and Mayor Lionel Johnson and Hank Grace of Iberville Parish. The members designated officers during their initial meeting on Monday, Aug. 19. Nosacka was elected president of SEL-GO, Rebowe was elected vice president, Steib was elected secretary/treasurer and Graugnard was elected parliamentarian.
Though SEL-GO is still very new, Sorapuru said he already a couple of ideas in mind, such as creating opportunities for youth employment and diversifying industry. The representative also said the committee may consider providing “mentoring” services to small businesses and doing workshops for larger businesses.
“I feel that we need people to step up and bring creative ideas to the table and help network our resources for small businesses, to help them grow. We can diversify the types of businesses we bring in — not just looking at the industrial sector. We can diversify with medical clinics and streamline the opportunity for small businesses to start up,” said Sorapuru.
Steib said the committee will act in a fashion similar to a chamber of commerce, by encouraging new industry to take root in the area. The secretary said the next meeting will be held on Sept. 16.
“That’s essentially what we’re trying to do, to grow the parishes in business and commerce and make them profitable. We also want to access related demands on the workforce, human resources departments, transportation, housing, health care, education and any related infrastructure requirements to formulate recommendations about the role of local and state government in best satisfying those requirements,” said Steib.
Brown said the SEL-GO initiative mirrors a similar effort in Calcasieu Parish. The southwest group faces challenges that are similar to SEL-GO’s because of the new Sasol liquefied natural gas project in Lake Charles, which is currently the largest expansion project in Louisiana. The River Parishes are currently preparing for the arrival an undisclosed project that is rumored to be the largest industrial project/plant in the history of the state, as well as several other anticipated expansions and new facilities.
Rebowe said the parishes chose well when deciding on representatives and that he is honored to represent St. Charles Parish. The vice president said he will do whatever he can to help better the River Region.
Aside from electing officers, the first meeting was held mainly to discuss the mission at hand and find out exactly what Brown had in mind when he established SEL-GO. Rebowe said he expects all the representatives to throw some ideas into the ring and begin planning their first move during the agency’s next meeting.
Sen. Brown said he is confident that SEL-GO will be successful in identifying ways in which the River Region can cooperatively support the growth in industrial development that is taking place.
“The River Parishes are deemed to be inundated with so many jobs in the next two years, we will no doubt be playing catch up if we do not implement proactive strategies such as this growth and opportunities group. The ultimate intent here is to create regionalized dialogue and communication so that all of the parishes collectively can be aware of what each other is doing to address challenges that are forthcoming.  These are what I consider to be great challenges for our area,” he said.