Rockett: Challenges affecting business retention today

With hundreds of jobs at stake along with a large portion of the community’s wealth nestled in the hands of a major employer, it can be terrifying to think of the negative effects of losing a long-standing business within a small community.  If this situation sounds like it was ripped from the local headlines, it’s because it was. Addressing what factors are driving existing industry’s decision-making processes could not come at a more relevant time.  Typical red flags in retention of existing business and industry include company leadership changes, logistics related to transportation, and the availability of a skilled labor pool.  The northwest Louisiana region in partnership with the state has had a great track record of investing resources into developing solutions to address these challenges.

Leadership change directly affects the future of a company.  New leadership brings new perspective.  Whether it be a change in its location or strategy, you can bet that the new company leadership will be instituting change on some level, and you need to be aware how that may affect the community.  Relationships with top management help to assess a company’s needs while allowing economic development leaders to assist by connecting resources as solutions to meet challenges.  Transportation and logistics are the critical factors in a businesses’ ability to get their goods to market while production inventory flow could also place a tax burden on the business.  Without dedicated state investment in multimodal infrastructure (rail, water, air service, and a comprehensive interstate system) we are missing a key component for success among our existing industries.   Additionally, the quality of the local labor force ranks high among the list of challenges when it comes to an organization’s ability to be productive.  Typically, smaller communities have a slower growth rate due to lack of access to a large labor pool.     

When you apply these retention concepts to the manufacturing sector, which is one of northwest Louisiana’s key industries, all the business retention red flags and challenges addressed above played out in the local headlines.  Paying attention to these issues means taking care of a large employment base within the manufacturing and trade/transportation sector.  The manufacturing industry is a vital make up of our community’s economic landscape as most manufacturers produce materials which are exported, resulting in external market dollars now being circulated throughout the local economy.     

Rocky Rockett

A recent survey conducted by Fortune magazine gives us a glimpse inside the mindset of CEOs.  According to the survey, 73% of Fortune 500 CEOs cited the rapid pace of technology change as the top issue that they see as a challenge.  Emerging technology within industry affects the labor market as well.  As companies invest more into advanced manufacturing and automation to increase productivity, the skill sets of workers need to evolve as well.  We are proud of our region’s investment in market responsive training programs.  They are unsurpassed and are considered an economic incentive.  Northwest Louisiana’s investment into labor training can save a company time and money by fast tracking their talent pipeline and equipping employees with specified industry certifications.  Flashy incentives which are meant to entice a disinvestment from one community to another are not a good substitute for our current labor assets within the local manufacturing industry.   Local economic incentives coupled with state incentives can be considered a responsible use of tax dollars because they are tied to the number of quality jobs which ultimately increases a community’s wealth.  And that is precisely the business of economic development.  

As economic developers are accountable to many stakeholders, existing industry remains a primary focus for stewarding economic development activity.  Nearly 80% of a community’s ability to foster economic success comes from existing business and industry.  Paying close attention to what’s going on in our backyard is critical for the region’s success.  Over the past three decades, the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation (GBEDF) has worked with existing industry by enhancing business development in our regional economy thanks to our stewardship of investment dollars entrusted to us by our membership and the local business community.  Over the last ten years alone, the GBEDF has invested upwards of $1.5M into the community.  Within that time period, we have provided over $500,000 to local businesses needing upgrades to enhance production.  Our efforts also include investment in local transportation.  Working through Bossier City, the foundation has funded various projects such as the Viking Drive Expansion and the Commerce Park Road and drainage. The foundation actively supports long-range plans for the I-49 and I-69 corridors.  GBEDF also invests in education initiatives from K-12 all the way through higher education. This can be seen through the investment of nearly $750,000 in innovative, local education projects such as the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Bossier Parish Community College.  The GBEDF stands ready to assist local business and industry and we welcome your partnership in continuing the mission.  

Rocky Rockett | Executive Director, Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation