Better infrastructure essential for business growth say summit speakers

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Kicking off the governor’s Louisiana Statewide Business Summit this morning, infrastructure leaders from various sectors made their case for why improving the state’s infrastructure is essential to the future success of the business community.

Public-private partnerships was a recurring theme throughout the discussion, with panelists calling for increased collaboration among businesses and state and local governments to drive investments and improve state infrastructure for the future.

Moderated by CSRS President Tim Barfield, the panel’s speakers included Port of New Orleans President and CEO Brandy Christian, DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, AT&T Louisiana President Sonia Perez and Entergy Business and Economic Development Director Ed Jimenez.

“We have to get serious about funding,” Wilson said to the large crowd of business leaders gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge. “We have a private sector capable and willing to step up. We need you to help explain that infrastructure is essential to your business. That’s why we’re talking about it first on today’s agenda.”

Christian spoke about the booming business coming through the New Orleans port, especially with the container cargo and cruise ship industries. She said the port is beginning to think beyond the water and beyond the terminals to the “world of Amazon speed” and fast delivery service.

That means making sure the port has the necessary roads, highways and rail lines in place to meet its growing needs.

“When we have growth like this, it means we need more infrastructure,” Christian says. “For us, the key is infrastructure and working with the state to make sure they deliver that.”

Perez and Jimenez, meanwhile, spoke about recent investments their companies—AT&T and Entergy—have made throughout the state and their plans for the future.

Entergy has embarked on a three-year capital plan, which involves $4.4 billion in spending throughout Louisiana, Jimenez says.

“We’re continuing to make smart investments to keep power costs low and reliability high,” he adds.

AT&T is continuing to build the pathway to implement 5G in Louisiana, Perez says, as the state is dealing with capacity and congestion issues in its digital infrastructure, similar to its highways. The company has been working with cities to lay the groundwork to introduce the next generation of internet connectivity.

Baton Rouge has been on the frontlines of this, Perez says, adding that Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and the late councilman Buddy Amoroso made sure the city was among the first to sign a 2017 agreement to deploy new technologies—like a smart grid and smart lighting and eventually 5G.

“Usage of the internet is only going to increase,” Perez said. “We have to be ready for that. … We can’t do it alone. It has to be through public-private partnerships as Shawn commented.”

The business summit will continue with panels on tax policy and economic development before Gov. John Bel Edwards gives his keynote address at 12:30 p.m., followed by discussion of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program.

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