By Juanice Gray
Local industry is the foundation of local economy. New industry boosts the economy, loss of industry can cripple it, but what about a solid industry base?
Solid, long term industry in an area signifies a stable economy, a ready workforce and longevity. Natchitoches Parish hasn’t seen an influx in industry in recent years, but the industries that call the parish home remain steady. Some have even expanded, renovated, modernized and grown from their inception.
Tony Davis is the executive director for the Natchitoches Community Alliance (NCA) and handles economic development for Natchitoches Parish. Parameters for growth in the parish have been identified and the NCA is assisting in meeting the “full spectrum of their needs” according to Davis. “We can assist with funding, finding qualified workers, locations and more. We now have a holistic plan that makes (Natchitoches Parish) attractive for recruitment.” When compared to areas of the same demographic and size, Davis said there is really good news. “We’re ahead of the game in terms of certified sites. We are a certified work ready community. This gives companies real numbers for them to review.”
Davis provided insight into the six parish industries, RoyOMartin, Pilgrim’s Pride, International Paper, Weyerhaeuser, Alliance and the Natchitoches Parish Port.
“RoyOMartin is growing. It is the biggest privately owned industry in central Louisiana. They have a job fair coming up soon and are keeping their production steady. Over half their employee base is in Natchitoches Parish.”
Pilgrim’s Pride underwent significant modernizations the last few years. “That shows they believe it is worth putting the money into this facility. This is something we want to see from an economic development angle.”
International Paper remains solid. “Besides their 300 plus employees, they have numerous sub contractors that put people to work and dollars in the area. They are the largest taxing entity in that area of the parish, which helps fund the schools, for one thing.”
Weyerhaeuser has maintained a steady presence for years and has also undergone renovations. “They spent significant dollars on their facility which is a very good sign,” Davis said.
Alliance is doing well. “They have recently signed a lease with the City of Natchitoches for warehouse space. That means they are increasing their capacity and are becoming very competitive globally.” Alliance also won the COO Safety Award coming out first among 600 Alliance factories.
The Port, while not a single entity, its components make it a location for industry and commerce. “The Port has maintained its tenants, they’re not leaving, and that is a huge accomplishment,” Davis said. “They have ADA Carbon Solutions, …… They also have a certified site for development which means they are build ready for any new company interested in that location.”
When looking at the context of big employers, Natchitoches has a stable, long term base with plenty of opportunities for growth.
Among the parameters industry leaders look for when scouting for a location, is workforce. “They want qualified help. Nationally, lack of qualified workers is an epidemic, but here, we’re focusing on workforce development,” Davis said. “There are programs here from birth to age 5 believe it or not. NSU and NWLTC have partnered to provide cutting edge programs to train people for real world jobs. They want a workforce, we have it. They need a site, we have it. They want to see where others are expanding and staying solid, we have that. We’re doing everything we can to keep the industries already here prospering and to bring in new ones.”
Davis said one company is looking closely to Natchitoches Parish for its future. “We’ve made the short list,” Davis said. “I’m very optimistic.”
So economic development doesn’t always mean new buildings going up.
Sometimes it means buildings remain occupied, people continuing to work and taxes going into the local economy.
This is the first in a series of articles on economic development and industry in the parish.