The LSU football team limped last week into the University of Florida’s “Swamp” a weary and wounded bunch. Coming off the heels of the latest humbling, forgettable loss in a humbling, forgettable season, it seemed this crew was destined to be steamrolled by a hot Florida Gators team on the verge of a berth in the College Football Playoff. Instead, LSU turned a “shoe-in” loss into a “shoe-aided” win by standing on the shoulders of a bunch of freshmen and second team guys finally getting a chance to show their stuff.
How did it happen? Well, somewhere beyond the game planning and flying footwear it was simply because LSU had their backs against the wall, so they competed harder than they had before.
It is a good lesson for all of us to learn, especially as a humbling, forgettable year like 2020 is thankfully ending.
2020 has been one of the worst years in modern history. Too many people have suffered, too many have died, too many businesses have been ruined and too many families are experiencing financial and emotional hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic and the world’s response to its very existence is now one of the defining moments of our lifetimes. Just like after 9/11 when domestic security measures in our daily lives changed forever overnight, so too will the way we handle hygiene, crowds, events, entertainment, travel and healthcare for years to come.
For Louisiana, this new reality puts our backs against the wall and forces us to compete like never before.
Our state economy depends largely on energy, hospitality, manufacturing and health care… and of course, government. For decades, the needs of state government have been placed above the needs of the other private sector economic sectors. Don’t believe me? Just look at the results.
The state budget has avoided cuts during this pandemic because the federal government stroked a big check and will likely avoid cuts in the next budget when Congress does the same thing again in 2021. Meanwhile, the few tax and tort reform bills in the last year to specifically help a struggling energy sector either died in the session or were vetoed by the Governor, the hospitality industry is still stifled by mandated shutdowns and promised cancellations of major events throughout next year, and a host of manufacturing plants are contemplating shutdowns or scale backs due to shrinking world volume and changes made to our Industrial Tax Exemption Program.
Some in the media and elected office are prone to say oh well, it is what it is, stop complaining about the new reality we all live in. They view the business community as an easy target rather than a valuable partner. Some of those even go a step farther and try to convince us that this economic drop is a good thing… that the more we can chase away traditional energy and manufacturing jobs, the better off our state we will be in the long run. Rubbish.
Meanwhile, reports are coming out that companies are leaving hostile environments like California and New York looking for better business environments in the South to move their companies, investment and jobs. These are not random startups; these are established companies we all know well.
Tesla, Oracle and HP are moving from California to Texas. Goldman Sachs is considering moving from New York to Florida. They are leaving because of high taxes, excessive regulation, congestion and the high cost of living in those areas. They think the South can offer a better alternative. And we can.
These companies are not yet looking at Louisiana, but they can if we compete in 2021 like our backs are against the wall. Texas and Florida have figured it out, while Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama are close to competing for these opportunities. We should be there too. If LSU fans won’t accept losing to the Crimson Tide, Aggies, and Gators, why should Louisianans accept losing the economic battle to those states?
Starting now, the Governor and his team should be on the phone relentlessly with companies in those states explaining the benefits of setting up shop in Louisiana. We have wonderful people, a rich cultural history, great natural resources, the mighty Mississippi River, access to the Gulf of Mexico, a robust pipeline infrastructure and the best energy and industrial construction workers in the world, not to mention a high-tech sector establishing roots.
In April, the Legislature will begin a fiscal session. They should do everything possible at that time to simplify the tax code and tax collection process while lowering the overall tax burden for individuals and companies as much as they can. To do this, some restructuring of government will be necessary. The century-old state governing model heavy on state subsidization must be reformed. Nothing should be off the table for consideration and traditional political battle lines should be swept out of the way. Many of our challenges can be addressed in bipartisan fashion, with new allies and coalitions, which would be part of a great sales pitch to these California and New York companies.
At the same time, our “sales-pitch” cities must better fight for survival in 2021. Everyone in Louisiana needs New Orleans to regain its mojo as soon as possible. The state and city must quickly develop a strong, unified game plan that will improve the Crescent City’s business climate and encourage the world to visit New Orleans again to enjoy our hospitality in a safe way. Baton Rouge desperately needs LSU to hire a transformational President who can make bold choices and fully embrace a flagship agenda that can improve educational outcomes, attract new investment and partner with these companies looking for new homes through collaborative research and quality training programs. And let’s not forget our neighbors in Southwest Louisiana, still recovering from two hurricanes, whose industrial boom has transformed an entire region to provide generations of economic opportunity.
2020 has been a terrible year and there is little to be gained for trying to place blame on anyone or anything in particular. Instead, lets focus on a New Year’s resolution to treat each day in 2021 like our backs are against the wall and vow to compete aggressively to make Louisiana a destination state for investment, jobs and new ideas. One state, one heartbeat.
Stephen Waguespack is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.