Emerson looks at larger location

Emerson Process Management has found a new potential location for its regional headquarters, and plans include making it larger than previously announced.

Marlin Wilson, Emerson’s general manager in Ascension Parish and the expansion project leader, confirmed that Emerson is seeking to locate its headquarters in the Edenborne development at the intersection of Interstate 10 and La. 44 in Gonzales.

Emerson officials announced in October they would open a new $10 million, 105,000-square-foot headquarters on West Orice Roth Road later this year.

The new campus would support approximately 175 jobs — 125 existing ones at various Emerson locations in Ascension Parish and the creation of about 50 new ones — and focus on Emerson’s valve manufacturing operations.

The new headquarters also will offer space for sales, engineering and service personnel. Emerson helps its industrial customers automate production and processing for chemical, oil and gas, refining, pulp and paper, power, water and wastewater treatment plants.

The new plans, however, call for a larger investment than originally anticipated, Wilson said.

“We’ve substantially increased the size of the project,” he said. “It’s a $16 million-plus investment now.”

In addition, Wilson said, the headquarters would be larger than the anticipated 105,000 square feet. Although he didn’t disclose the exact size of the new layout, Wilson said. Emerson would make the second floor of the building larger and also would invest additional dollars in “more upscale technology than we would have initially.”

Emerson would become the second major project at Edenborne, joining River Parishes Community College, which plans to open a $17 million campus in March 2014.

During their October announcement, Emerson officials said they hoped to move into their new headquarters in October. However, Wilson said, the move to Edenborne would push that timetable back. The new goal, he said, is to move in by February 2014.

There are some hurdles still to be cleared by Emerson, just as there were when it planned to locate its regional campus on West Orice Roth Road. The first is rezoning of the Edenborne property.

A public hearing has been called for 6 p.m. March 4 at Gonzales City Hall to discuss rezoning 17.57 acres of the Edenborne development from “traditional neighborhood development” to industrial. The request came on behalf of Emerson in a letter to city officials from Edenborne co-developer William Clark.

Attempts to reach Clark to discuss Emerson’s possible move to Edenborne were unsuccessful.

Rezoning issues at the West Orice Roth Road location actually are what led Emerson to Edenborne, Wilson said. After the Gonzales City Council voted to rezone nearly 18 acres on West Orice Roth Road over the disapproval of residents in the area, six residents filed a lawsuit to block Emerson’s move and have the zoning decision overturned.

That litigation could have tied the issue up in courts for years, Wilson said, so Emerson officials started to look for other options. They originally had thought of locating at Edenborne, but the timing then didn’t work out.

“We couldn’t afford to wait that long,” Wilson said of a protracted court battle. “It was either a situation where we did this or we moved elsewhere where we wouldn’t be in the city of Gonzales and perhaps not in Ascension Parish.”

Tyrone Smith, one of the Gonzales residents who sued to block Emerson’s move to West Orice Roth Road, said he was happy to hear that Emerson was looking to move elsewhere in the city.

“I think it’s fantastic that Emerson is doing what we asked to happen from the beginning of this process,” Smith said. “Our first statement was, ‘Emerson, welcome to Gonzales.’ That was our very first statement. We followed that up by saying find a facility zoned to build their building.”

Smith, who said it was “heartbreaking” that citizens had to sue to block Emerson’s plans to locate in a residential area, said the issue never was between Emerson and the citizens. Instead, he said, the problem was that citizens felt the City Council didn’t listen to their advice.

“It was clear that that issue was not a battle between the citizens and Emerson,” Smith said. “That issue was between the citizens and the 2012 City Council. ... They didn’t honor and respect our wishes.”

Councilman Terance Irvin, who was the only member of the City Council fighting to keep Emerson away from West Orice Roth Road, said he thinks the move to Edenborne would be beneficial for two reasons. It provides another anchor for the Edenborne development, he said, and it helps soothe some of the rezoning animosity.

“If and when Emerson makes the decision to purchase the property in the Edenborne development, I think it will be an awesome location,” Irvin said. “I’m happy they decided to stay in the city of Gonzales.”

Irvin said there are some good opportunities for Emerson, which plans a training center on its new campus, to partner with River Parishes Community College. He also said many people would be attracted to live near those two facilities, which could help spur further development for the project.

“I knew there was going to be some bumps in the road because of the magnitude and the value as far as what you’re dealing with,” he said. “Emerson is a $5 billion operation. It’s a Fortune 500 company. ... I also knew that Gonzales was mature enough to deal with it and also get past the bumps in the road.”

Wilson credited parish and city officials for fighting to keep Emerson in the parish. Emerson has been operating in Ascension Parish for more than 40 years, company officials have said, and Wilson said it was important for both the company and its employees to maintain that tradition.

“It was just a natural fit,” Wilson said, “and worked out really well.”