On the map
|Leotta-Evers Consulting emerges as a top player in Louisiana economic development after its technology helps secure a major project.|
One of the state's biggest economic development coups ever came last year when Sasol, a South African petrochemical company and a major player on the global energy scene, announced it had selected a site in Calcasieu Parish near Lake Charles for its new $8 billion gas-to-liquids fuel production complex.
The announcement marked the single largest investment project in Louisiana history. Not only would the Sasol plant create some 5,000 new jobs, it would be the first of its kind in North America and would help create new demand for natural gas in Louisiana, as Gov. Bobby Jindal said at the time.
While there were many factors at play in Sasol's decision to locate in southwest Louisiana, Leotta-Evers Consulting, a local firm that specializes in Geographic Information Systems technology, or GIS, can take credit for playing a key role in it. That's because the company's GIS technology was used by state economic development officials to simplify the site selection process for Sasol, shortening it by months by enabling the international corporation to efficiently evaluate potential sites in Louisiana and compare them to sites elsewhere.
“It was the quickest site selection I've ever seen because they could look at multiple properties,” says George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, who worked on the deal. “Issues were defined such as pipeline and rail, and having that GIS data helped them save six months.”
The Sasol deal was as big a win for Leotta-Evers as it was for the state because it put the local firm on the map, so to speak.
The firm was founded by Victor Leotta and John Evers in 2008, and started out using GIS—a system of capturing, storing, manipulating and analyzing all sorts of geographical data—for real estate and business investments. As the firm has grown, though, it has increasingly tailored its software to focus on addressing the needs and answering the questions that prominent site selectors have when they come to an area— and in doing it swiftly, which is critical in the high-stakes, competitive world of economic development.
“If we've done anything, I think we've made the process much more efficient,” Leotta says. “That translates into moving faster. And when you're competing with other states, the first to come to the table with the most information that meets the needs of the prospect is going to get a harder look.”
The information can vary depending on the preferences of the client. Some clients want to know more about the proximity of rail lines. Some may be more concerned with the distance between the river and Interstate 10. But they all need to know about infrastructure, utilities, environmental factors, where residential and commercial developments are clustered, and, above all, how such factors might affect the plant or facility they want to develop.
That's where Leotta-Evers made the difference. The company's GIS tools crunch all the data and organize it in a way that's easy to understand and identify.
“The approach we've taken is to solicit input from clients and what their most attractive attributes would be for a site,” said Evers. “We develop a model that covers large levels of geography rather than just taking known sites and evaluating them.”
While the first few years of business were slow for Leotta-Evers, the pace has begun to change. When Leotta and Evers founded the company, they had no money or investors. Today, the firm has 10 employees and projected revenue for the year of $1 million or more.
Perhaps most significantly, it has a growing list of more than 100 clients, including economic development agencies like Louisiana Economic Development, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, GNO Inc. and the economic development arms of Entergy. Those entities are turning to GIS to help them identify suitable locations for major industrial construction projects, a job that has inherent challenges.
“Our most common challenge right now is a lack of development-ready sites, especially on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans,” say LED Secretary Stephen Moret. “We have a couple of projects right now where we've got multiple companies looking at the same location. … Using GIS has made a dramatic difference in terms of screening those sites.”
As demand for Leotta-Evers' services has increased, the firm has developed a list of clients in six other states. But its primary goal is to focus on Louisiana and build a strong portfolio of desirable site locations to further attract developments to the state.
“Considering what this state has to offer to promote industry, commerce and local economies in terms of natural resources, minerals, agriculture, timber, seafood, the river, the gulf, the ports, great universities, unique culture, tourism and people— the question is, Why not Louisiana?” Evers says.
But while the state's resources are well known, some of its best sites have not yet been discovered. That's where LEO comes in
“Louisiana has in my opinion, some great untapped locations to site large commercial and industrial projects, however they haven't necessarily been discovered,” Leotta says. “Our job is to discover them.”
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