Vermilion Parish sets sights on economic development

A parishwide effort to boost the economy of Vermilion Parish is about to get under way with a search for the coastal parish’s first economic development director.

Over the past year, the parish’s cities and other governmental entities, such as the police jury and School Board, committed funding over a three-year period to start an economic development office and hire a director.

So far, more than $200,000 has been committed to the effort, said Paul Bourgeois, a Vermilion Parish police juror who led the push to create an office of economic development. Most parishes have economic development districts or authorities that facilitate business growth and retention and serve as a point of contact for industry interested in moving into an area.

“In Vermilion Parish, there is no one person to go to right now,” Bourgeois said. “Look at St. Martin, Iberia, Lafayette, and Jeff Davis. They’re growing big time, though the interstate helps them. We’re missing out because the parish doesn’t have someone and a game plan in place.”

A focused effort not only to grow industry, but also to retain businesses is needed to help grow and stabilize the parish’s economy, Bourgeois said.

“Our tax base is what funds all our services and that’s what we’re trying to increase,” he said.

While the parish had made prior attempts to launch an economic development plan, the effort gained traction after Bourgeois’ election to the police jury two years ago and a committee was formed, said Pat Rost, vice-chair of the economic development committee.

Rost, a lender with Kaplan State Bank, represents Kaplan on the committee.

The committee presented its plans to create an economic development office and hire a director to communities and taxing bodies across the parish and even won over critics, Rost said.

“Everybody wants the same thing. We want our parish to grow,” she said.

The committee developed a plan that sets out goals for the parish, such as: developing a brand for the parish, promote tourism, business retention, growth in new 30- to 40-employee businesses, and a port expansion.

“Our land is so productive for us and the other thing too is when we suffered a terrible hurricane with Rita and Ike, you saw us bounce back unbelievably,” Rost said. “Our people stick together. We pray together and we work together. We need an economic developer who will bring more prosperity to our parish.”