Ascension group approves study to help diversify economy

The Ascension Economic Development Corp. will spend nearly $59,000 for a study to help the parish target businesses to help diversify the local economy.

The AEDC approved a contract Thursday with Sanford Holshouser Economic Development Consulting, of Raleigh, North Carolina. Sanford Holshouser, which has done similar studies for the state of New York, the city of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, beat out four other firms for the contract. The study is expected to take about four months to conduct.

Mike Eades, chief executive officer and president of the AEDC, said the contract shows that Ascension isn’t “sitting on our hands and resting on our laurels” despite the parish’s recent success in attracting major economic development projects. Right now, 18 potential projects are looking at setting up in Ascension Parish, representing a total investment of $16.9 billion and 2,015 new jobs.

One of the potential prospects is Project Blue Water, a natural gas conversion project that would be a capital investment of $1.3 billion that would create 300 new jobs. The company is looking at the 987-acre Pointe Sunshine megasite at La. 18 in Donaldsonville.

The study calls for Sanford Holshouser to look back at Ascension’s recent economic history and see what the major industries are and the threats they face.

“We know we are dependent on the petrochemical industry, but we don’t know how dependent we are,” Eades said. “And the threats are pretty obvious: regulatory changes, energy price volatility. But we want to know if we are missing opportunities for upstream or downstream companies.”

The report will also determine what industries Ascension should target in an effort to diversify the economic mix. Eades and AEDC officials will find out which companies in those industries are experiencing growth, who the leaders of those companies are and what strategy should be used to approach those businesses, such as attending trade shows, purchasing advertising or making in-person visits.

Bob Goforth, a partner at Sanford Holshouser who will serve as project manager for the Ascension contract, said he plans to approach the parish as to what potential investors and job creators see.

“Our main business is helping companies find the best place to put their facilities, so we evaluate from that standpoint,” Goforth said.

Goforth said he isn’t familiar with Ascension Parish and his firm has never done a similar study in Louisiana.

“We’re really looking forward to working with the folks there,” he said. “We all need to keep an eye on the economy and make sure the makeup of it is proper. An area can get overloaded with a particular type of industry.”

The AEDC has been “extremely busy,” with at least one or two prospects visiting the parish so far every week this year.

As for Project Blue Water, Eades said the business left Ascension Parish last week with “an agreement to agree” with the owners of Pointe Sunshine on the purchase price and the option price. They then met with Louisiana economic development department officials, and Eades said he was told the business left with an agreement on what incentives the state would offer. However, the business has not signed any contracts with the Pointe Sunshine owners or LED and the site is still being shown to other potential buyers. Still, Eades said, “I’m feeling pretty positive about this.”

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