Moret: Site preparation, technical training are key to Central Louisiana's growth

Written by
Jeff Matthews

Stephen Moret is an economic developer by trade. But, judging from his speech to a group of Alexandria-area local businesspeople and stakeholders Monday, he may have a touch of preacher in him, as well.

The Louisiana Economic Development secretary, who often projects a reserved and thoughtful personality, showed his more animated side at a Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance luncheon event Monday in Alexandria Convention Hall in downtown.

As he spoke about the state's prospects, and the large role he says Central Louisiana can have in them, Moret grew more and more enthusiastic. By the time he closed his remarks with an emphatic "this is our time," he was practically exhorting the crowd to jump on board the vision of prosperity just around the corner.

"I was excited," Moret said afterwards. "It's an exciting time."

Indeed, as proud as Moret is of Louisiana's economic development wins and rapid rise in business climate rankings, what really gets him fired up is the state's future potential.

The last few years have been good. He believes the next few will be great.

Louisiana, Moret said, is poised to become "the new frontier of business development" thanks to "a historic convergence of hard work, preparation and good fortune."

"I have never been more optimistic about Louisiana's economic prospects," he said. "This is our time to show Louisiana is the new economic powerhouse of the South."

The good fortune is a plentiful supply of low-cost natural gas and a bevy of manufacturing jobs heading back to the U.S. from overseas.

Moret believes Louisiana, and in particular Central Louisiana, can be as big a winner as anyone in the coming U.S. manufacturing boom.

To cash in on that opportunity and secure those jobs, he said, Cenla will have to improve in two areas -- developing potential sites for manufacturing facilities to locate and increasing the level of technical training in the workforce.

The region has made progress in both areas, with a handful of new sites coming online in recent months and the transition of Central Louisiana Technical Community College into a full-service community college. But more needs to be done.

"If you can secure more sites and technical training, Central Louisiana very likely will be the major beneficiary of the state's economic resurgence," Moret said.

Moret projects $50 billion to $60 billion in new manufacturing projects in Louisiana in the next three to four years. He sees Central Louisiana taking a significant pice of that pie -- a development that could spur every segment of the region's economy.

"Imagine all the benefits of growth," he said. "The economic benefits I'm talking about won't happen overnight. They will ramp up over the next few years. But it will happen and it will be big."

"The things he talked about today are the same things we talk about," said CLEDA President Jim Clinton. "It was great to hear him say it and great to hear him be so enthusiastic about it. Nothing is a cinch, but we have an opportunity for sustained, substantial growth if we do the right things."

Moret also stumped for Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed tax reform plan. Though Louisiana is a low tax-burden state, Moret said, its tax climate is often perceived unfavorably because the code is overly complicated.

Reforming the tax code "will make the state more attractive for business investment," he said. "I believe it will make a huge difference."