Gov. John Bel Edwards focused on cyber, Barksdale Air Force Base, and Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport during his keynote speech at the Northwest Louisiana Legislative Summit at the CenturyLink Center Wednesday.
Hosted by the Bossier Chamber of Commerce along with its regional partners — the Greater Minden Chamber of Commerce, Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, Shreveport-Bossier African American Chamber and North Louisiana Economic Partnership — the summit provided a wrap-up of the 2019 legislative session with a panel session featuring State Sen. Barrow Peacock, Sen. Ryan Gatti, Rep. Wayne McMahen, Rep. Larry Bagley, and Rep. Thomas Carmody, moderated by the Council for a Better Louisiana President and CEO Barry Erwin.
Gov. Edwards, who is up for re-election in October, began his keynote by pointing out that Louisiana is in a “much, much better place” then it was four years ago.
“Right here in Bossier, since January 2016, we’ve attracted economic development projects that resulted in 551 new jobs,” Gov. Edwards said.
He added that unemployment in Louisiana is at a 12-year low.
“No other state exceeded or equaled (Louisiana’s unemployment numbers) over the last 12 months,” Gov. Edwards said. “We have the highest personal income in the state today. It is growing faster than the national average.”
He then went on to say that as a result of the economy’s performance, he expects another budget surplus.
“The $2 billion budget deficit has given way to a $300 million budget surplus. Just to put that in perspective, that is 1 percent. It makes a very positive difference,” he said. “I expect that with the budget year that ended on June 30, as soon as all of the books are reconciled, we will have another surplus of about the same amount as last year.”
Looking locally, Gov. Edwards noted that he delivered on his promise to the community that the LSU Health school would stay in the community, and even grow. He said a partnership with LSU Health and Ochsner solidified that.
“That is working well, the strengthening is happening. Classes have grown, 70 new physicians have been recruited, and funding for the $60M Center for Medical Education and Wellness building was secured in the last legislative session,” he said.
Gov. Edwards also highlighted the cyber corridor along I-20. He noted that its focus on cyber security saw him bring the NGA Cybersecurity Summit to Shreveport-Bossier in May.
“We’re going to continue to grow the cyber presence in Louisiana and along I-20,” he pledged.
He also highlighted degrees available at Bossier Parish Community College and Louisiana Tech University.
“Cyber degree opportunities are increasing at both two- and four-year institutions,” Gov. Edwards said. “There is a tremendous demand for individuals with these skills.”
He then noted that the cyber corridor would not be where it is without Barksdale.
“Barksdale has been a central part of this community for nine decades. It is the largest single employer in the region and we wouldn’t have the cyber epicenter without the folks at Barksdale Air Force Base,” Gov. Edwards said.
He noted the No. 1 request from Air Force leadership to his office was support for the I-20/220 interchange entrance to the base. Gov. Edwards explained that although there was no funding for the project when he became governor, the innovative method of utilizing GARVEE bonds saw three infrastructure projects, including the Barksdale Air Force Base entrance, move forward.
“The significance is not just a new interchange or gate,” he said, “it means enhanced security, better quality of life, and economic development.”