Friday, June 21, 2024

A Look Back: Local wins, other steps & pivots

by BIZ Magazine

The 10 top Caddo-Bossier economic stories of the past 12 months

1. Amazon robotics facility coming to Shreveport

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Amazon announced May 7 the company’s first robotics fulfillment center in Louisiana, with over 1,000 jobs and a $200 million capital investment coming to an LED Certified Site in north Shreveport. Located in the Hunter Industrial Park, the site is near Interstates 20, 49 and 220 and provides ideal access for Amazon’s logistics operations.

The Amazon robotics fulfillment center will include contemporary robotics technology, inventory and shipping operations in a multi-level building with a 650,000-square-foot foundation. The project will create over 1,000 full-time jobs with starting pay of $15 per hour and comprehensive benefits beginning on day one — full medical, vision and dental insurance; and 401(k) savings with a 50 percent company match. The development will generate 800 construction jobs, and Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in an additional 1,118 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 2,100 permanent new jobs in Northwest Louisiana.

“This new Amazon project is a major advancement for the Shreveport-Bossier City metro area and for Louisiana’s economy,” Gov. Edwards said. “In addition to providing strong benefits, Amazon will pay workers double the minimum wage or more in a state-of-the-art technology environment. Only a year ago, we dedicated Hunter Industrial Park as one site in a growing inventory of LED Certified Sites that now numbers 126 statewide. Through partnerships with our elected officials, economic development allies and utility partners, we are proving that great things are possible in Louisiana when we make smart plans for the future.”

One of every five U.S. residents lives within a 500-mile radius of Shreveport, making the location enviable for distribution and logistics companies. Amazon will begin construction of its Shreveport fulfillment center immediately, with plans to open the site in September 2022 in time for its busiest e-commerce season.

“Amazon may be a global business, but it’s made up of small businesses and communities. From the local jobs we bring, to the local people we employ, train, and upskill – our business is made up of people from communities like Shreveport,” said Amazon Regional Director of Operations William Hicks. “We’re thrilled to be able to expand our operations in Northwest Louisiana and we look forward to becoming part of the fabric of the local community.”

The Amazon robotics fulfillment center in Shreveport is the largest of seven Amazon facilities operating, announced or under construction in Louisiana. The company’s committed investment in the state to-date is more than $600 million and includes seven Whole Foods Market locations. In Shreveport, Amazon employees will pick, pack and ship smaller customer orders, such as books, toys, electronics and other household items.

“The City of Shreveport is committed to developing a diverse business community,” Mayor Adrian Perkins said. “We are excited to be the new home for a state-of-the-art distribution center. This will be a valuable asset to our community and will provide employment opportunities to hundreds of our residents. This project could change the life trajectory for many of our citizens who are still dealing with the financial fallout from the ongoing pandemic.”

LED and its economic development partners began formal discussions with Amazon about a potential Shreveport fulfillment center in August 2020.  

2. New Leadership for Bossier City

Bossier City elected a new mayor and three new city council members in March. 

Tommy Chandler, and the new council members, were sworn in July 1 at the Bossier Civic Center.

In March, Chandler unseated four term mayor Lo Walker in the Bossier City mayoral race. Chandler received 56 percent of the vote (4,623 votes) while incumbent Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker received 44 percent of the vote (3,603 votes). 

“I want to thank the citizens of Bossier City for electing me Mayor of this great city to work with the City Council and to keep Bossier City a place that everyone wants to live and work,” Chandler said during his swearing in.

He offered his respect and admiration to former Bossier City mayor, Lorenz “Lo” Walker, former CAO, Pam Glorioso, and the other members of the previous Bossier City administration for the passion they showed during their years, and the courtesy that was extended to the new mayor during Walker’s passing of the city flag to him.

Mayor Chandler also gave acknowledgments to the current and future policies that he will support during his administration.

Saying that he plans to maintain and develop the infrastructure for areas of Bossier, believing that the curb appeal and first impression that the city conveys to potential residents is a key factor to its attraction; he aspires to renovate the dilapidated Jimmie Davis Bridge. This stays congruent with the current direction that the city has taken with its effort towards developing and enhancing the aspects of Bossier that make it great.

He expressed his intention to keep Bossier City’s relationship with Barksdale Air Force Base and Global Strike Command unified and strengthened. The Air Force Base has provided the city with many jobs and benefits that have created a mutual synergy between the two entities.

Chandler encapsulated the sentiment of his speech by saying, “I am excited for the future of Bossier City! What is great about being elected Mayor of Bossier City is that it is already a Great Place to Live, Work, and Raise a Family. I am ready and looking forward to working with the City Council to keep it that way.”

Chris Smith replaced council member at-large Timothy Larkin. Bossier Parish School Board member Shane Cheatham was elected to represent District 1 and Vince Maggio was elected to the District 5 seat. 

Cheatham was later tapped as Chandler’s CAO (chief administrative officer) and vacated his council seat, but was not approved for the CAO position by the city council. Former councilman, Scott Irwin, was chosen to temporarily fill the seat in District 1. An election will be held later this year to permanently fill the seat.

The council unanimously approved Amanda Nottingham as the city’s new CAO in a September meeting.

3. COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact region, state and country

As the summer arrived, the COVID-19 pandemic reared its head sending many back to hospitals with the new highly contagious delta variant. 

Louisiana saw record hospitalizations with a high of 2,720 in early August. The new variant and state’s low vaccination rate were blamed for the spread.

In response, Gov. John Bel Edwards reinstated a statewide mask mandate and social distancing measures in August he had just relaxed in May. Schools returned to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year without any vaccine mandates, only masks. Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins instated a mask mandate for city businesses and establishments.

Nationwide, President Joe Biden unveiled a plan requiring many different business and governmental employees to take a vaccine or submit to weekly testing before returning to work.

A bright spot, as noted by Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas, was that the fourth wave for the state had seemed to peak and begin a decline by mid-September.

Thomas said positive COVID-19 cases are declining in Ochsner hospitals with 386 patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19 across the health system, down from 1,009 the month prior. 

4. Shreveport Mayor Perkins lays out bond proposal

The Shreveport City Council overwhelmingly voted July 13 to support a new $236 million bond proposal by Mayor Adrian Perkins.

The council voted their support 7-0, a sharp contrast from the council members’ concern for a similar bond proposal in 2019.

Perkins’ original bond proposal was for $220 million and was later reduced to $186 million. That bond was brought before voters and narrowly rejected.

“The needs of our citizens far exceed what the City of Shreveport has in its budget. That’s why I’m asking the city council to support the bond that will include five propositions highlighting the more critical needs in our city,” Perkins said.

Perkins noted he held community listening sessions in May and June. Those meetings saw 500 people attend, while a survey on the city’s website saw nearly 1,200 citizens make a priority ranking of four categories for spending the money.

That resulted in the order of public safety, infrastructure, economic development, and technology.

The breakdown of funding for the bond proposal is:

$69M for public safety,

$20.5M for parks and rec

$63.2M for drainage, water, and sewer 

$62M for street improvements

$22M for broadband installation

Councilman John Nickelson originally opposed Perkins’ 2019 proposal, but voiced his support for the 2021 measure. He noted that his original concern was largely due to inadequate input from the council and public, which has been rectified.

“Mayor Perkins has been diligent in his effort to gain the public and council’s input,” Nickelson said. “Changes in leadership have proven important in moving the city forward (and the money will be spent responsibly because of those changes).”

Grayson Boucher said his experience with the city’s financial health showed him that the time is now for the council to support this bond issue. 

“There is no way the City of Shreveport can fiscally build a $24M police station. There is no way we can remodel three fire stations,” Boucher said. 

The council noted there would be more discussion coming on the particular items included in the bond proposal.

A special election will be held Nov. 13 for the proposal.

5. Report shows Shreveport’s growth

While 2020 “was a year of trials and tribulations,” according to Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, it was also a year of many firsts and some surprising growth for the city of Shreveport.

In a year-end annual report issued in February by the mayor’s office, Perkins outlines the ways his administration stuck to his campaign promises of “public safety, economic development, and technology.”

The Mayor said that he started his term with a $1.2 million budget deficit and “the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic threatened to worsen the City’s fiscal outlook.”

However, the mayor said that CAO Henry Whitehorn and CFO Sherricka Fields Jones “successfully mitigated a $23 million projected budget shortfall. The City of Shreveport posted an excess fund balance for 2020 and a projected Operating Reserve balance of $24.5 million for the 2021 fiscal year, the highest in over two decades.”

6. I-20/220 and Barksdale Air Force Base interchange makes significant progress towards completion

A tour by Gov. John Bel Edwards this summer revealed the I-220/I-20 Barksdale Air Force Base Interchange project is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Edwards, along with Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson, toured the I-20/I-220/BAFB Interchange project on Aug. 24. 

The I-20/I-220 BAFB Interchange project has been a part of the state’s transportation master plan for many years and broke ground in April 2019.

Once complete, it will provide access to BAFB, the first entrance of its kind via an interstate in the area. It will also be the first access road for the base that doesn’t contend with crossing a railroad track.

It will also provide for improved connectivity and security for all types of commercial deliveries and general access to the base.

7. Shreveport-Bossier area chambers announce collaboration to address opportunities and challenges of our region 

Leaders of the Bossier Chamber, Greater Shreveport Chamber, and Shreveport-Bossier African Chamber of Commerce convened on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, for a special joint meeting of the boards.

Over 35 directors from the boards of all three local Chambers met to explore ways to collaborate to address the opportunities and challenges of our region. The groups agreed to identify areas of common interest where engagement and representation from each organization can be leveraged to identify issues and recommend changes to improve our region.

“Our business community is comprised of such a wide range of businesses, from large employers to small entrepreneurs,” said Billy Anderson, executive director of the Shreveport-Bossier African American Chamber. “By working together, we leverage the membership of all of our Chambers, and bring a more complete perspective on our local economy and a wider variety of new ideas to making our community stronger.”

The Chambers have agreed to a regular schedule of future meetings and to developing a structured process to undertake the work needed to help make Shreveport-Bossier a better place to live, work, and play.

“Most external observers see Shreveport-Bossier as a single region, not separate cities,” said Lisa Johnson, president of the Bossier Chamber. “By working together across the river, we increase our capacity to capture opportunities and bring new ideas and new energy to overcoming challenges.”

The three chambers have historically worked together on state and federal advocacy, but throughout the pandemic, they expanded the collaboration to deliver timely information across the region.

8. Major infrastructure project proposed to connect Bossier, Shreveport

Bossier Parish Police Jury members received information on a major privately-funded infrastructure project that, according to Shreveport attorney William Bradford, “…will help grow our economy, grow our communities and grow them closer together.”

Bradford, representing infrastructure development company Tim James Inc. of Alabama, briefed the jurors in early September on a proposed project that would span the Red River and connect La. Hwy. 3132 from its current terminus to U.S. Hwy. 71 near Parkway High School.

“This project is completely privately funded. We’re not asking for incentives, no taxpayer money, no land,” Bradford explained. “All the roadway will be dedicated for public use except the bridge, which will be toll.”

Total cost of the project is estimated between $60-$80 million and should take roughly two years to complete once design and permitting stages have been finished. Bradford said taking all necessary steps into consideration, opening date could be 2026.

“This is a testament to how connected our communities are,” he said. “Mr. James looks at maps and he sees we have a river that divides yet connects. This project fits into his model. It mirrors the Foley Beach Expressway.”

9. Shreveport Airports Director resigns, interim director issues priorities 

Shreveport Director of Airports Wade Davis resigned the position on May 27. Davis began with the Shreveport Airport Authority Dec. 10, 2019.

Stephanie Tucker was chosen as interim airport director on June 4. She laid out her four focus areas for the Shreveport Regional and Downtown Airports during the June 17 Shreveport Airport Authority June meeting.

Tucker is a self-described “aviation geek” who told the Shreveport Airport Authority Board her priorities are infrastructure, employee engagement, customer experience, and economic stability.

“None of these are more important than the others. The team and I are going to work these together,” she pledged.

Tucker previously worked at New Orleans International Airport as a deputy city attorney and at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as the manager of properties, new business development, and advertising, as well as a division manager overseeing multiple revenue generating entities.

When discussing her focus on infrastructure, Tucker said, “I Walk the terminal, I see the torn seats. And, there are issues outside the terminal. We need to focus on what the short term and long-term fixes are.”

On her employee engagement focus area, Tucker pointed out she is the 12th airport director in 15 years.

“Wow. That’s a lot. (The employees) have been through a lot,” she said. “They are a professional, hardworking, lean team. They are what makes this airport great. If they’re happy, my job is easy.”

When discussing the focus on customer experience, Tucker said the citizens of Shreveport and stakeholders are all their customers. She continued, “If you have happy customers, you have happy employees, board, and citizens. I want to make sure I’m reaching out to meet all of our stakeholders.”

Tucker said the economic stability focus area stemmed from Federal Aviation Agency’s requirements that Shreveport Airports be economically sustainable. She added that means driving revenue up because the airports are not funded by the city and do not receive tax dollars.

“We have to figure out how we increase non-aeronautical revenue, like concessions, and aeronautical revenue, which are the airlines. I’m receptive to new ideas and like to think outside the box,” Tucker said.

She did admit that the “elephant in the room” that she has already been asked about during her short tenure is, “When is Southwest (Airlines) coming?” She said answer is not when, but how.

“(The answer) is easy — supply and demand. For new airlines to come and for our current airlines to expand, don’t wave at the airport as you drive over to Dallas,” Tucker said. “The short-term gain for a cheaper fair is the long-term opportunity Shreveport has lost. This is our hometown, this is our airport.”

She backed up her assertion by highlighting the growing traffic of 2021, but also explaining how it is down from the pre-pandemic 2019 numbers.

The airport had encouraging numbers with 1,300 passengers moving through the airports in early June. Year to date, total passenger air traffic is up 4% over 2020, but down 45% when compared to 2019.

“Last year has been a challenge, but we need to put that in the past and go forward,” Tucker said.

10. Louisiana Tech Research Institute celebrates new building at Cyber Park with groundbreaking

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday, Aug. 24 for the Louisiana Tech Research Institute (LTRI).

Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony celebrated the progress made on the future home of LTRI. The facility enables Louisiana Tech University to partner in new ways with industry and defense partners, provides Air Force Global Strike Command with a dedicated research and development and applied research center, attracts talent and industry, and serves as the official home for defense-related education for north Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards noted the community’s important relationship with Barksdale, specifically the base’s impact on the area’s economy.

“This is a $28-Million investment that is going to greatly enhance national security because of the partnership with Barksdale Air Force Base,” said Edwards. “It’s going to help us attract and retain talent.”

Edwards also stated that the I-20 Cyber Corridor is booming and everyone from the private sector to the Department of Defense is taking notice.

In late 2019, Edwards announced the state’s commitment of $10 million in Capital Outlay funding to build LTRI at the National Cyber Research Park.

Attendees at the ceremony also heard remarks from Louisiana Tech President Dr. Les Guice and Cyber Innovation Center Executive Director Craig Spohn. 

“Fourteen years ago, we decided that we wanted to improve the quality of life of Bossier City, and we wanted to do that through a knowledge based economy. And today, there are as many people working in that sector as there are in the oil and gas sector in Bossier Parish,” said Spohn. “There are $150 million dollars of household incomes that weren’t there. That’s a 100% return on investment every year on the original investment on the four buildings you see out behind me.”

“All of this has been accomplished with my partnership with my good friend Dr. Les Guice. Without his help, I couldn’t have done any of this,” Spohn added.

LTRI will mark the fourth, and final, building originally planned for the current cyber park configuration.

The LTRI center is set to be completed in summer 2022.

LTRI is an established 501C3 and has been developed from the productive collaborations between Louisiana Tech, CIC, and the Bossier community to support the growth and secure the sustainability of Barksdale Air Force Base, including AFGSC and leverage this presence for new and accelerated regional economic growth opportunities. LTRI fosters collaboration among government partners, academia, and industry and serve as the official home for strategic thought-, cyber-, defense-, and intelligence-related education, training, and workforce development programs for North Louisiana. 

BIZ. Magazine

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