St. John Parish observes Economic Development Week

Published 4:25 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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LAPLACE — Small businesses and industry partners, seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum, each play an important role in St. John the Baptist Parish’s economic development.

Small and large businesses came together Monday morning to celebrate An Economic Development Week with breakfast at the Port of South Louisiana’s new headquarters at 1720 Highway 44 in Reserve. Speakers including Congressman Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) and SBA Region VI Administrator Ted James highlighted resources available to bolster the local economy, create jobs, and build a safer community for all to enjoy.

St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard invited the public to a week of programs aimed to increase awareness of ongoing economic development efforts and resources.

“No matter how big or small your business is, you play a vital role into the health of our community,” she said.

Economic Development Week Kickoff Reception was held Monday evening at Petra Restaurant in LaPlace. On Tuesday, St. John Parish hosted a Career & Job Fair at REGALA Gym.

Today, Wednesday, May 10, St. John Parish invites the public to experience food from local vendors at “A Taste of St. John” from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Belle Terre Country Club, located at 111 Fairway Drive in LaPlace.

Economic Development Week culminates at noon Thursday, May 11 with St. John Day at the Capitol. Parish leaders will network with state officials about legislative policies impacting residents while showcasing St. John’s unique culture.

Congressman Graves has fought to secure dollars for infrastructure projects in the River Parishes and other Louisiana communities. He said flood protection, particularly the fully federally funded West Shore Levee project currently in progress, are vital to creating an environment conducive to economic development.

“We can have the best Port in the world and amazing schools, but if this place goes underwater, we’re not going to be able to lure investment here,” Graves said. “Things like the West Shore project, hurricane protection, are absolutely critical to ensuring people have a safe place to live.”

According to Graves, it’s important to keep close tabs on the project to ensure it is seen through to completion. Inflation of construction costs has posed challenges to regional infrastructure projects, including the Comite River Project north of Baton Rouge, which quadrupled in cost from $223 million to more than $1 billion. Graves and his colleagues successfully secured $1.2 billion for the West Shore Project after it was initially considered fully funded at $760 million.

With protection projects underway, Graves said it’s time to focus on investing in the state’s ports.
According to Graves, while ports in the south have grown by as much as 56% in a 10-year span, ports in South Louisiana have collectively only grown 8% in the same timeframe.

“If you look at this region on paper, we should be the envy of this country,” Graves said.

Working with the ports and parish presidents, funds have been secured to widen and deeper the river to enhance maritime commerce by allowing larger vessels to pass through.

The Port of South Louisiana reversed a six-year trend of tonnage losses in 2022, moving 10 million more short tons of cargo than the year before.

Paul Matthews, CEO of the Port of South Louisiana, said the port is responsible for more than 180,000 jobs, $300 million in tax revenue, and $4 billion in earnings.

“Whether it’s in DC or local, economic development is all about creating good-paying jobs for our people. We know that one out of five of our jobs are because of our Ports, because of transportation,” Matthews said.

Matthews added that for every one job created at a Port, there are going to be three to four jobs created indirectly thanks to the support of small businesses.

The Port of South Louisiana is committed to adding an I-10 exit in Reserve to open another corridor of commerce in St. John Parish.

SBA Region VI administrator Ted James said opening an I-10 exit would additionally create job opportunities for small businesses. One of the functions of the SBA is to help get small businesses become certified to work with the federal government, James said.

“Most people don’t know about the vastness of the SBA outside of times of disaster,” he added.

Opportunities expand out of the state and across the globe. The SBA has an Office of International Trade, and lending programs are available for businesses working in exporting.