BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Pushing for more efficient infrastructure, building public trust and maintaining fiscal equilibrium are some of the priorities to foster business growth and development in Louisiana, according to speakers at the statewide business summit.
The summit, hosted at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel, has been in the works for a few months and criticized by the GOP party as a campaign ploy for Governor John Bel Edwards, who is the summit’s key note speaker.
The event began with a video presentation highlighting some of the state’s economic accomplishments, touting Louisiana as the second fasting growing state in the south.
Further investing in the state’s infrastructure, including widening and maintaining its roadways and dredging the Mississippi River, were among some of the priorities.
Brandy Christian, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, says the state should think “beyond the water” as more companies are moving toward an “amazon speed.”
“When we think about what ports are doing for the state, think of it like an airport,” she said. She said that an effective port attracts more companies to the area.
She said the state should not only include shipping exports, but to also focus on imports for local and state businesses by establishing distribution centers and developing efficient roadways.
She says last year the state moved 600,000 containers and has reached a “tipping point of momentum.”
Looking into the construction of a new cruise terminal is also something to consider for the state. She says, in 2018, there were 1.2 million passengers moving along the Mississippi River.
She says that as container ships get bigger dredging the Mississippi River will be necessary. The project to deepen the river by 5 feet, making it 50 feet deep, will start as early as October 2019.
LA DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, another speaker on the infrastructure panel, says the department is working to gather the funds to construct a new Mississippi River. Wilson added that some of the state’s 12,000 bridges need repairs. Transporting goods in an efficient manner through new bridges can help make the state’s roadways more efficient for companies as well sustain highways and reduce congestion, Scott said.
“We have the tools but we don’t have the fuel,” he said. He says DOTD is asking private partners to help fund transportation projects, and emphasized that no project will be solely funded on state taxes.
Reducing network congestion through expansion is also another priority for leaders. Sonia Perez, president of AT&T Louisiana, spoke said the telecommunications company is working to deploy small cell technologies to get a better handle of data capacity issues. She said the technology is being piloted in other states. Perez said she hopes Baton Rouge can be one of the first major cities in Louisiana to have this technology.
Financial stability and tax policy and reform were the top topics of the second panel. Department of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson opened her comments by saying she was needed to collect more revenue to avoid the state’s fiscal cliff.
“[However] from a state’s perspective, we’re on the right path,” Robinson said.
Dr. Jim Richardson, an alumni economics professor with LSU, provided data on the state’s spending. He said over the last 15-year period, spending has gone up by seven percent. Part of that, he says, has to do with increased spending on public services.
“The fiscal cliff is dead,” Richardson said, and added that the 2018 special sessions will keep another one at bay until 2025. While employment in Louisiana has surpassed the job numbers in 2017, he said the state should still work to maintain overall employment. “We at least have some stability,” he said.
Gray Stream, Stream Company president, said the state’s tax rate for businesses was “odd and inefficient” and that companies are in need of access to capable people. He said the state legislature needs to come up with solutions to improve the quality of life for the state’s residents, including breaking the cycle of generational poverty.