Experts say North Louisiana and Shreveport-Bossier City have a competitive advantage over similar regions attempting to attract large economic developments — the ability to provide a skilled work force.
Experienced workers are an essential piece of what industries are looking for when considering a region for development, said Jerry Szatan, a Chicago-based economic development consultant.
Szatan is one of five consultants who are part of an advisory forum hosted this week by North Louisiana Economic Partnership and Southwestern Electric Power Co.
The consultants, members of the Site Selectors Guild, were invited to Shreveport-Bossier City as a way to showcase the area as a region ripe for development. The cost to bring the five was $25,000.
Large companies go to the guild as a first point of contact when considering a new development location, said Christine Rambo, NLEP spokeswoman.
Rambo said Shreveport-Bossier City isn’t as well-known as nearby New Orleans and Dallas, and the forum is a way the region can market itself as a viable option for economic developments the consultants may already be working on or may work on in the future.
Szatan said an immediate observation he’s had since visiting the region this week is that north Louisiana and Shreveport-Bossier City, specifically, have proven the ability to produce the right workers if the labor pool is not already available.
“To compete in manufacturing in the U.S., you need more and more skilled work forces, so communities providing training institutions to create that work force as part of attracting new economic development will have a big advantage,” he said. “There are other places in the country that have done things similar, but I can’t think of any place that has done as much, as many, and as fast as Louisiana.”
The example in every presentation Thursday was the training facility at Bossier Parish Community College dedicated to producing a work force for German manufacturing company Benteler Steel.
The steel plant is under construction at the Port of Caddo-Bossier, and the training facility is scheduled to be completed this month.
Scott Martinez, NLEP president, said the technology sector also is raising a work force in Shreveport-Bossier City.
He believes a company such as Computer Sciences Corporation — which earlier this year announced intent to build a technology center in Bossier City — was recruited thanks in part to $14 million in state funding dedicated to building a tech work force. Of that, Louisiana Tech gets $9 million, he said.
When the incentive was announced in February, the school said it intends to quadruple undergraduate degrees in computer sciences and engineering. The graduates will be equipped for CSC.
Martinez said Shreveport-Bossier City has recruited manufacturers, but the region hasn’t had a technology presence, “so having CSC come here I think is going to be a bell cow, if you will, and be the impetus for a lot of things in that sector.”
The consultants were to tour Shreveport-Bossier City on Thursday and today. The tour and showcase includes presentations from regional universities and utility providers and talks with established industries in Shreveport-Bossier City. The five site selection guild members are working consultants, not just visiting in an advisory capacity, Rambo said. “They’re working on projects now.”