LEDA/Opportunity Machine

The Art of the Deal Landing a prospect is a balancing act of numbers and storytelling

by Gregg Gothreaux, LEDA

LEDA allocates significant time and resources to business retention and expansion efforts because most new jobs in a community are created by existing companies. We find that the best opportunities for growth often stem from existing relationships. Last August, Bell Helicopter cut the ribbon on their SLS assembly facility adjacent to the Lafayette Regional Airport. That day was a milestone in a relationship that LEDA has been cultivating with a division of Bell Helicopter, formerly known as Aeronautical Accessories, since 2002. In 2011, we began working with Bell Composites and Jones Lang Lasalle to identify a site for the consolidation of several Bell facilities in the region. It was through that successful project — Bell Composites opened in LEDA Industrial Park in Broussard in 2014 — that LEDA and Louisiana Economic Development (LED) laid the groundwork for the first modern-era, final assembly project in the state.

With Lafayette’s and Louisiana’s long-standing history in aviation and the continued leadership of executives such as Al Gonsoulin, PHI’s chairman and CEO, the project seemed to be a perfect fit for the community. We needed to demonstrate that to company officials.

We do this in two key ways; through a workforce comparison — illustrating the competitiveness and availability of our workforce — and an economic impact analysis — calculating direct and indirect impact.

Workforce Comparison

A key element LEDA needs to illustrate is our community’s compatibility with a company’s workforce needs. In many cases, workforce availability is at the forefront of a company’s concerns. By accessing data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, post-secondary institutions and other resources, we are able to quantify the current available workforce and identify the types of workers who are being trained for future employment.

For the Bell Helicopter project, LEDA provided a detailed workforce comparison between Lafayette and a site in Alabama that was also under consideration. Chart 1 shows the availability of Aircraft Mechanics and Aircraft Assemblers and other occupations that can quickly transition with minimal training. Within a 30, 60 and 90 minute drive time radius, the Lafayette region had 2,000, 9,600 and 4,800 more workers than in Alabama. Another plus for Lafayette is the fact that Louisiana has three FAA-certified maintenance schools which could help transition workers in related fields.

While the first concern when thinking about where to locate a company is the availability of labor, the next question is, “At what cost?” As part of the workforce comparison for this project, a wage analysis was done for targeted occupations. Wage data collected from the Economic Research Institute’s Salary Assessor shows that within a 90-minute drive radius wages in Lafayette are competitive (chart 2). When a company can see their bottom line improving, it makes a real impact during the decision making process.

Economic Impact

We’re often asked about the impact a specific company has, or could have, on the local economy in dollars and jobs created. Our client provides specific details on earnings, spending and employment; and we match that data with the corresponding RIMS II multipliers to formulate the estimated impact of the existing or proposed business. A multiplier summarizes the total impact that can be expected from change in a given economic activity. For example, a new facility or an increase in production are economic changes which can prompt ripple effects or spin-off activities. Think of multipliers as showing you how much bang you get for your buck. LEDA calculated that Bell Helicopter will have a total economic impact of $415 million on the local economy over the next ten years.

A company’s direct impact to a community is important, but so is its indirect impact. By creating 115 new, direct manufacturing jobs, Bell Helicopter will stimulate the creation of 72 indirect jobs in complementary industries in the area. New income generated through the jobs created will be spent on goods and services in the retail, administrative, management and health care sectors. Based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the largest number of indirect jobs will be created in the manufacturing industry and management industries (11 jobs each), followed by health care (7 jobs) and retail (7 jobs). Chart 3 illustrates the full breakdown of where all of the new jobs will be created as a result of the Bell Helicopter manufacturing facility.

An aircraft manufacturer, like Bell Helicopter, will undoubtedly work closely with local businesses for supplies. The company has worked closely with LEDA to cultivate relationships with local companies by encouraging quality and process certifications necessary to become a qualified aviation vender. We participated in their supplier meeting last April and have continued to work with contacts we met at the meeting. I also recently wrote about the Aviation Certification seminar we hosted last year and the success some local businesses have already had in securing their certifications.

Preparing a workforce analysis and an economic impact study are just two steps in the process LEDA goes through when working with recruitment, expansion and retention prospects. Our staff prepares a customized proposal for each prospect. We conduct extensive property searches to meet the client’s facility or land needs. We facilitate meetings with representatives from other economic development, government or educational organizations. The staff walks our clients through each step — illustrating along the way that Lafayette and Acadiana is the place to be.

All of that hard work paid off with the Bell Helicopter project. Jubal Smith, who handled the project for Jones Lang Lasalle said, “LEDA demonstrated and executed a winning strategy in the recruitment process of Bell Helicopter’s SLS manufacturing facility. LEDA’s knowledge of the market and its competitive position, greatly aided our efforts in evaluating and ultimately selecting Lafayette over many competing cities and states.”

Big projects like Bell Helicopter, CGI and Halliburton are energizing to the community, but they only come along once every few years. It’s important to always remember that it’s the smaller projects — existing businesses growing with the Parish and new businesses relocating or starting up in the area — that keep Lafayette’s economy fresh, vibrant and diversified.

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

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