By KEVIN CHIRI
SLIDELL – St. Tammany Parish continues to be among the top regions in Louisiana when businesses consider where they would like to relocate and the growth here shows no signs of slowing down, St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (STEDF) Director Brenda Bertus told a breakfast meeting of the East St. Tammany Chamber.
Bertus made her annual appearance at the Slidell Chamber to talk about the business climate in St. Tammany as a whole since STEDF is the key organization in the parish that works full-time to lure new businesses here, while working as hard to retain the businesses we have.
The population numbers for the parish over the past 10 years make it clear that St. Tammany continues to be a popular place for people to live, as well as businesses to settle. Bertus said the slow, steady growth the parish has seen for over five years should continue into 2016.
“The good thing about the growth St. Tammany is experiencing is that it is not a boom and then a bust, but slow and steady, which is the best way to get it,” she said. “I believe 2016 is going to continue that growth here, especially since we have good business potential in the pipeline we are working with.”
St. Tammany Parish saw its population go over 200,000 in the early 2000s, then after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 a steady growth saw the numbers go over 225,000. By 2015 the population had risen to 246,000 and projections are for the population to be approximately 258,000 by 2020.
Bertus said business growth has gone hand-in-hand with the population growth, due largely to the many incentives in St. Tammany Parish for companies to be lured by.
A two-minute video created by STEDF for prospective businesses to view highlights the fact there are three interstates that converge in the Slidell area, but more than that is the large amount of green space available for businesses to consider when looking for a great location.
STEDF is the operational arm of the parish that provides information for business leaders who come here to consider a new location. Bertus said that just this past week her office entertained two men from India who were on a search throughout Louisiana for a business location for their IT service company.
“We showed them our video to start, which highlighted the fact St. Tammany Parish has two divisions of NASA to our north and south, both within an hour away. These men from India had been in the state for three days and never knew those NASA operations were so close to us,” she said. “The video is a great way to quickly inform business owners what we have to offer.”
Bertus said there are currently 16 active businesses in their pipeline as prospects to select St. Tammany for a new location. Those 16 companies represent a potential investment in the area of $266 million and would help retain up to 183 current jobs here, while creating 1,784 new jobs.
“The two focuses we have with STEDF are to attract new businesses, but just as importantly, retain the businesses we have,” she said. “Half of the new jobs that we see created in St. Tammany Parish come from businesses that are already established here.”
To display the importance of keeping businesses here Bertus said the state has given STEDF a list of many of the most important companies to work with.
STEDF is also working on increasing the number of what they term “certified sites” in St. Tammany, locations where virtually every issue before building has already been addressed. That includes topics such as wetlands determination and mitigation, planning and zoning, permitting and more.
There are currently six certified sites ready for building in St. Tammany and they are located in the Johnny Smith Business Park, Madison Farm, the Rigolets, River Chase, Nord du Lac and on La. Hwy. 36.
When questioned about the impact the fall in oil prices is having on St. Tammany, Bertus acknowledged it has had an effect, but not nearly as heavily as the 1980s oil price drop.
“St. Tammany is so much more diversified in the businesses we have now so we are not at all reliant so heavily on the oil and gas industry,” she said. “The drop in oil prices has affected Chevron, which is located in our parish, but it actually didn’t hurt us so badly since they have closed their Lafayette office and are moving most of those people over here.”
Bertus said she expects to see some of the state tax incentives be reduced due to the budget crunch faced by the governor and Legislature, although she said St. Tammany has never had a lot of incentives to lure businesses.
“We can still get creative with things such as bonds and that can help when we are in a competitive situation trying to get a business to come here,” she explained.