Shreveport-Bossier recently received input on how to attract major projects to the area as part of North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP) led sessions throughout the area.
NLEP engaged South Caroline-based Global Location Strategies (GLS) to assist in developing NLEP’s new five-year Strategic Plan for North Louisiana. The new Strategic Plan will serve as the framework of NLEP’s programs and initiatives for the next five years.
As part of this initiative, GLS Founding Principal Didi Caldwell and Consultant Tess Fay led economic development sessions July 16-18 in Monroe, Arcadia, and Shreveport.
Faye opened the Shreveport session July 18 at LSUS by discussing the corporate location decision making process, noting that a funnel is commonly invoked when describing the process. She said at that point that process begins with more site eliminators than selectors and will continued to be narrowed down until only a handful of locations are left.
“At the end of this process, we will have collected more than 850 data points on your business climate, workforce, and your community,” Fay said.
Often, GLS will look for location with the highest quality — workforce and living standards, for example — and lowest cost —such as utilities, labor rates, site development costs — and lowest risk — things like natural disasters and a striking labor force.
She notes that it is nearly impossible to find one location, so they help clients understand the trade-offs. Selection can be relative and project dependent, adding that communities face very stiff competition.
Looking at Louisiana, she said a benefit is the strong state and regional levels serve as partners. However, she encouraged attendees to think about how they can tell their community’s story to stakeholders.
“Think about how you can tell your story to all the different stakeholders in your community who will go along the journey of economic development with you,” Fay said.
Attention then turned to perceptions of north Louisiana from a survey of economic development stakeholders. She noted that the overall view is positive and many believed there were several strengths, including military presence, low cost of living, and strong and growing health care sector.
The negatives were slow population growth, labor force participation, and education attainment.
The stats proved this out with Shreveport-Bossier’s population growth rate of 77.9 percent lagging behind the national average of 81.6 percent.
“It’s not the end of the story, it just means there is more digging that we need to do. Why is it low?” said Fay.
She added that although the perception is that Louisiana and NLEP is less well-educated that other areas, Shreveport-Bossier has some areas alone that are higher than the region.
“That might not be an issue if we’re talking production that doesn’t need a highly skilled workforce,” Fay added.
Caldwell is well known globally in corporate site selection, assisting corporations with their location strategy, particularly large manufacturing and heavy industrial projects, for the past 20 years.
She noted that north Louisiana has several factors going for it, including several that mean a great deal to potential clients, like low cost of natural resources, availability of sites, and good transportation infrastructure.
Caldwell added that site availability is crucial, saying, “You are competing with communities investing millions to make sites and buildings development-ready.”
She also highlighted a strong presence of higher education, which she said is key to filling the pipeline for workforce, and many potential industries value that and find it very important.
Factors that hurt the area are a lack of air service, which can be very important to global companies looking at site location.
“In our meeting with GDIT, they said they would get more visits from corporate headquarters if they had a direct flight to DC,” Caldwell said. “Global companies want a site to be within 1 to 2 hours of a major airport. We try to talk them off that ledge because those types of sites are not super friendly, low cost sites.”
She also gave perspective on the K-12 education quality.
“This is another thing about perception — it’s not the schools but systemic problems. I tell my clients don’t look at the statistics, go to those schools,” Caldwell said.
Looking at reasons why Shreveport-Bossier believes it loses out on projects, she noted that survey responders said people don’t know about the community. Caldwell said Louisiana has a strong brand and the area should embrace that, and added that regional organizations are important for getting info to site selectors.
“Regionalism is important,” she said. “Find a few key things lined on and leverage collective size, be more successful than you would individually.”
Another reason cited was tax climate. A ranking showed Louisiana is No. 44 in the nation for tax climate, but Caldwell noted that while taxes might be the deal breaker in the end, “nobody is saying they’re not going to Louisiana because of taxes, they’re going to look at everything else first.”
She said workforce has become very important for companies and added that, “Anything you can do to raise your workforce up and give them skills, will be really important.”
Caldwell also noted that companies are going to where the people are. She said Shreveport-Bossier should look at a way to capitalized on lifestyle options.
Lastly, she noted that acquiring and developing a site ahead of a projects is an advantage for attracting a project.
“If you don’t build it they definitely won’t come,” Caldwell said.