Nov. 10, 2015 03:54 PM

Quantified a decade ago, LEDA’s role in the local economy continues to grow — and to diversify.

More than a decade ago, LEDA turned to then-UL Dean of Business Lewis Gale to help determine the economic impact its parks and projects had on the community. The numbers that came back were astonishing and told a story of success, even in hard times, that has helped to grow and diversify our community.

Gale calculated that LEDA had a total annual economic impact of $1.25 billion on Lafayette’s economy. He based this on our business park activity, recruitment and retention activities, workforce advisory services and other assistance provided to the business community. According to Gale, these numbers were very conservative. In the years since, that number has grown, but more important our business base has diversified — with oil and gas, not away from it. In 1986 Lafayette’s dependence on oil and gas activity was a whopping 75 percent. Today that number is 45 percent. That diversification will help in these hard times. We are proud to have played a role.

LEDA has continued to add value to Lafayette’s economy through our ongoing business development and job creation efforts. Larger announcements such as CGI and Bell Helicopter certainly boost those numbers. CGI alone will have an annual economic impact of $60 million once it reaches full employment. Just as important are the dozens of more modest recruitment and retention projects that also make a significant impact on Lafayette’s economy.

While the community is in a period of economic and governmental transition, I thought now would be a great time to share some of the specific services LEDA offers that benefi t local business. LEDA works with business people as they make decisions to start or expand their business or relocate one to Lafayette Parish. Through innovative collaborations with business, government and education, LEDA strives to grow the community’s business base for future development and diversification. We do this in several ways.

LEDA works to facilitate existing business retention and expansion through our Outreach-Visitation Program. The program is designed to build relationships and to encourage an ongoing dialogue that helps to identify development barriers and address urgent business needs so companies can remain competitive and profitable in the marketplace and in our community. Together we identify common issues, and address unique business needs and make quick connections to resources and information. Ultimately, the goal of the program is to build a better business community by acting on the information we receive from our local business leaders. This data will help LEDA and our allies better understand Acadiana’s business environment and guide us as we work together to offer the most comprehensive selection of businesses services possible.

At mid-year, LEDA had completed 254 visitation meetings with C-level executives or company decision makers. That’s 254 business leaders who now know how the community can help their business grow, and 254 business leaders who we’ve helped develop a growth support structure for. So far this year, 21 companies have filed Advance Notifications with Louisiana Economic Development reporting the creation of 715 new jobs and retaining more than 3,000 jobs in Lafayette Parish.

Bell Helicopter is a great example of a project that began with a visitation meeting and grew into one of the largest aviation projects in Lafayette history. Bell Helicopter will have an annual economic impact of $27 million.

Another example is Newpark Mats and Integrated Services in Carencro. The company completed a $41 million expansion of its manufacturing facility and has started construction on its new research and development facility. The project will create 29 new jobs on top of 55 existing jobs.

LEDA can help a business identify potential sites for development. Our Business Recruitment and Market Intelligence departments work closely with commercial real estate agents to provide accurate and up-to-date information about available properties. Whether it’s a 1,000-square-foot office space or a 20,000-square-foot warehouse, we’ll work closely with our real estate allies to find the property that best fi ts a business’ needs. Our relationship with local real estate agents is demonstrated in a recent office space search for CGI. Sixteen office properties, throughout the city, were shown to the company by eight different agents. The company made its location decision based on the collaborative work between LEDA and the real estate community.

LEDA also owns four business parks in the parish, with almost 50 businesses located in them. Our newest tenant, Global Data Systems, celebrated the grand opening of its new corporate headquarters facility in LEDA’s Northpark in October.

Market research is critical to understanding the viability of any business venture. Whether evaluating customers’ preferences or analyzing the competition, LEDA’s Market Intelligence and Strategic Analysis teams have the resources to help. With access to data points ranging from retail sales to employment figures, our staff can assist with customized market research for existing and prospective Lafayette Parish businesses. We understand that positioning a business involves perception, feasibility, efficiency and many other factors that differ across industries. We take the time to learn about those variables and use that knowledge to produce an accurate analysis of a target market or location of interest. Our researchers have answered more than 300 inquiries for information this year. These inquiries can be as simple as the population of Lafayette Parish or as in-depth as an economic impact analysis.

In 2014, at the request of Rusty Cloutier with MidSouth Bank, LEDA completed an economic impact analysis of the UL Lafayette Football Program. During the 2013 season, the Ragin’ Cajuns football program had a local economic impact of more than $27.3 million — an average of $5.46 million for each of the season’s five home games. These results were used to support expansion plans of the stadium as outlined in the Athletics Department Facilities Master Plan.

These services are just the tip of the iceberg. Next month, I’ll share information about LEDA’s workforce services, educational opportunities and the Opportunity Machine — Lafayette’s entrepreneurial accelerator and incubator.

LEDA offers these services at no cost to businesses that run the gamut from single-employee startups to headquarter operations with hundreds of employees. We recognize that each of our clients, no matter how big or small, has contributed to the economic success that Lafayette has experienced.

Just as many businesses have made adjustments to their business plans during this time of economic transition, LEDA will continue to improve the scope and quality of the services we provide our clients. As we move into 2016, LEDA will continue to follow the mantra that the quality of our service is determined not by us, but by our client — that’s you.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

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