LSU’s Industrial Innovation Center helps the ‘Louisiana Chemical Corridor’ come to fruition

In 2015, the federal government designated roughly 25 south Louisiana parishes—stretching from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge and down to New Orleans—as the “Louisiana Chemical Corridor.”

As Business Report details in a feature from the current issue, it’s one of 24 Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnerships across the U.S. Unfortunately, no federal dollars came with the label.

Instead, the hope was that IMCP regions, having demonstrated a willingness to collaborate across the public, private and nonprofit sectors, would move to the front of the line when federal agencies were considering grant applications.

Last November, the Louisiana Chemical Corridor partnership notched its first win, when the Department of Commerce granted $498,624 to establish an Industrial Innovation Center at LSU.

Of the more than 215 organizations nationwide that applied, LSU was one of 34 to receive a grant meant to “make U.S. communities, businesses and the workforce more globally competitive.” Two other Louisiana entities benefited from the same round of grants: Baton Rouge’s Research Park Corporation received $250,000 for its Louisiana Deal Flow Accelerator, while the New Orleans-based Propeller Social Impact Equity fund got the same amount.

The IIC at LSU will host an “innovation think tank” of engineering experts at the university who will work with the region’s plant operators and industrial contractors to identify their needs, says Jonathan Shi, the LSU construction management professor who is leading the project. The group will connect users with “innovators,” possibly university researchers or private sector inventors, who can address those needs. Louisiana Economic Development and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, both coalition partners, may help recruit innovators from outside the region if necessary, Shi says.

“We start with the chemical manufacturing industry,” he says. “We ask them, ‘What are the needs for technology innovation?’ We use those needs as a starting point.”

It’s not unusual for a company to pay LSU to develop a product or process, with the results of that research belonging to the company. The IIC will take a similar approach, except that the research will be meant to benefit the corridor as a whole, and the results will be shared by the various partners.

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