Some are common across the nine-parish Capital Region while others are uniquely tied to a single parish. Here’s a roundup of what area chambers and economic development officials say are their two key objectives in 2019:
East Baton Rouge Parish
Transportation and infrastructure
• The Baton Rouge Area Chamber will watch how nearly $1.5 billion of transportation infrastructure investment will be deployed, and plans to be engaged on the prioritization and transparency of the process.
• BRAC named traffic as the top obstacle hindering business growth in the Capital Region for a third year in a row.
• BRAC hopes to secure reforms to blight laws that negatively affect quality of place.
• Blight has been a major issue for decades in Baton Rouge, attracting war declarations from former mayors Bobby Simpson and Kip Holden and inspiring a series of stories published last year by Business Report.
• Last year, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration launched a Blight Strike Team to tackle blighted and abandoned properties around the parish.
• An obstacle to fighting blight is many properties that are reported for being unsightly are privately owned, which throws a wrench at city-parish officials trying to clean the area.
Transportation and infrastructure
• The Ascension Economic Development Corporation is watching transportation and infrastructure projects in the region in 2019, specifically the proposed I-10 expansion and the potential new Mississippi Bridge.
• The infrastructure improvements can serve as a tool to recruit new residents and businesses to the parish, who will want convenience when it comes to commuting to work or transporting commodities over parish lines, says ASDC President/CEO Kate MacArthur.
Opportunity Zone funding
• In March, Gov. John Bel Edwards nominated 150 census tracts to be eligible for the Opportunity Zone program, which were approved in May.
• Billed as a program to spur private investment in low-income rural and urban communities, Opportunity Zones gives tax breaks by deferring and lowering federal taxes on capital gains.
• For Ascension Parish, the Opportunity Zone program could promote new residential development and hotels in the parish.
• The Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce has launched Love LP, a branding initiative that will be incorporated in many of the chamber’s campaigns to promote the the parish and local businesses.
• Chamber President and CEO April Wehrs says the new initiative will help attract area developers to the parish.
• Some of the local seats up for grabs include state Rep. J. Rogers Pope’s in the House of Representatives, parish council positions and Albany mayor.
• Legislation, whether at the parish or town level, mandates how easy or complicated it can be for companies to do business in Livingston Parish.
St. Helena Parish
Supporting local education
• The St. Helena Parish School District has paired up with LSU to bring much-needed educational resources to the area, including recruiting teacher and establishing a STEM initiative at St. Helena High School.
• The new resources, paired with new curriculum and instructional changes that align to the state’s new standards, are hoped to bolster the parish’s school grades and foster economic development.
St. Helena Parish Industrial Park
• Located outside Greensburg, this 29-acre facility features a 8,000-square-foot building but has seen little use.
• The parish has struggled getting the park to market, and the facility has been criticized for being too far from rail lines, waterways and the interstate.
West Baton Rouge Parish
Capital Area Road and Bridge Authority
• The frequent gridlock traffic plaguing West Baton Rouge Parish has been a heavy detriment to economic development efforts, says Jamie Hanks, executive director of the West Baton Rouge Parish Chamber of Commerce.
• Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, sponsored legislation to create a five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge Authority to explore ways to fund construction for a possible third bridge across the Mighty Mississippi.
• The authority is expected to hold its first official meeting this month.
Industrial Tax Exemption Program
• The ongoing ITEP debate may be creating concern that Louisiana may not be a business friendly state.
• New rules set last year provided guidance in the ITEP approval process as well as gave government entities the power to veto a request, a power some southern parishes have already began exercising.
• Hanks says the program needs to be stabilized and less future changes to the approval process be made.
Expansion of chemical industry
• Hank Grace, director of economic development for Iberville Parish, says he’s watching the expansion of the chemical industry in the parish, which will create more jobs in the parish.
• In July, Shintech Louisiana announced it was investing $1.49 billion in the parish to develop a new chlor alkali and vinyl chloride monomer production facility, as well as expand an existing manufacturing facility in Plaquemine.
• The expansion is expected to produce 120 direct jobs and 590 indirect jobs.
New Mississippi River bridge
• As one of the potential sites for the proposed Mississippi River bridge, businesses are hopeful for the new bridge to be built in the parish, Grace says, especially with the traffic expected to increase from the area chemical industry expansions.
Pointe Coupee Parish
Possible Port of Greater Baton Rouge takeover of Pointe Coupee Port
• It’s been proposed that the Port of Greater Baton Rouge take control of the Pointe Coupee Port.
• Les Cantrell, head of economic development at the Greater Pointe Coupee Chamber of Commerce, says the move would be a huge economic driver for the parish.
False River Restoration Project
• Dredging on the north side of the lake, also known as the “North Flats” is slated to begin this month
• Some 94,500 cubic yards will be pumped from the bottom of the lake, boosting fish habitats.
• The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries also are stocking the lake to help enhance the fishery.