LEDA/Opportunity Machine

Love Thy Neighbor

by Walter Pierce

Behind every successful community is a well-connected regional economic development team.

Behind every successful community is a well-connected regional economic development team. By Mike Tarantino

Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012

As a nationally known site selector said during a recent visit, Acadiana is a special place for many reasons. Our unique culture, the "can-do" spirit of our workforce and our business climate are second to none.

We truly are a rich blend of deep roots and progressive innovation.

As president and CEO of the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation (and this year's chairman of the board for the seven-parish Acadiana Economic Development Council), I have the privilege of working not only with the urban center of our region, but also with the rural parishes that give the area a whole range of successes worth celebrating.

Make no mistake about it: Economic development is local. For existing businesses to grow here and for new businesses to consider locating here, it takes local initiatives and local investment in things like infrastructure, workforce training and pro-business policies to create an atmosphere and a foundation that those businesses can build on.

We are wise to remember most site selectors are considering our commitment to local economic development investment long before we know that they are interested in us.

We are also wise to realize that the fastest growing, most progressive communities also embrace the importance of a well-coordinated regional effort that puts aside geographic boundaries and places the focus on those things that affect us all. The much-anticipated completion of I-49 South is a good example of how we share common links across parish boundaries and how, by working together, we can realize a crucial project that will benefit everyone.

Iberia Parish is a great example of a community where good things are happening.

Recent positive developments - like Carbo Ceramics' plans for a significant expansion at its facility near Acadiana Regional Airport, along with the opening of National Oilwell Varco's new campus - are signs of even bigger things to come.

Additionally, Metal Shark Boats in Jeanerette was recently awarded a major military contract, and the Port of Iberia is moving forward on a 187-acre planned expansion.

The Acadiana Regional Airport Complex continues to expand and has the capacity to land anything that flies. Delcambre continues to redevelop its waterfront, significantly strengthening the shrimping and fisheries tradition there.

And the announcement of the new Progress Point Business Park development, together with all the other new exciting projects described above, is a clear indicator that Iberia's long-standing contribution to Acadiana's crucial oil and gas sector is strong and growing.

Iberia Parish is also a good example of how rural parishes are finding new ways to bring important infrastructure improvements home.

The creation of Economic Development District #1 has served as a tool to bring new infrastructure to our U.S. Highway 90 "front door."

Local investment, coupled with state and federal dollars, is extending frontage roads, completing overpasses, building new capacity at the Port of Iberia and Acadiana Regional Airport, and facilitating the installation of new utilities that create more shovel-ready opportunities for businesses and families to locate here.

And because our regional workforce regularly commutes across parish lines between work and home, these investments mean more opportunities for all of Acadiana's families.

Developing our workforce with the skills to take full advantage of all that we are blessed with is another important component in the engine that makes Acadiana thrive.

The home of a great four-year university (Geaux Cajuns!) as well as community and technical college campuses, training institutions and the businesses they serve are making big things happen here. In fact, Acadiana's families live in a region that has seen skill-sets soar, resulting in a more than 6.1 percent rise in salaries.

Iberia Parish also is banking on Acadiana's future by making huge investments in its schools. In 2009, Iberia Parish voters approved a bond proposition to fund the construction of seven new schools and critical renovations and equipment upgrades at all of its facilities including Career Campus, Iberia's technical high school training facility.

But positive stories like these are not just occurring in Iberia Parish.

Whether it's Lafayette's recent grand opening of a new Halliburton facility, or Evangeline's announcement of the development of a nationally certified industrial park, or just some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, we all have much to be proud of here in Acadiana.

As that same site selector said during his visit, we should all take heart in the positive things that we are blessed with, and strive to invest in projects and initiatives that will help us to grow individually, all while celebrating each other's successes.

After all, we're all on the same team.

Mike Tarantino is president and CEO of the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation and this year's board chairman for the Acadiana Economic Development Council.