The City of Ruston, population 22,000, is the parish seat of Lincoln Parish, population approximately 47,000. Situated in north central Louisiana, Ruston has lots of appeal – from its churches to its educational institutions, from the strong work ethic of its residents to its close-knit community; the City of Ruston is a great place to do business.
The City of Ruston was originally a railroad town. Then, at some point, several large families established very successful businesses in the area. Of those companies, one went on to become one of the biggest construction companies in the South.
An online search for the City of Ruston can be deceiving. Its demographics and numbers make it fly under the radar, but when people visit Ruston, it totally changes their perception of what this City is capable of. “We have a small town charm,” says Mayor Walker. “We’re big enough to compete and small enough to care. The challenge is to get people here in order to see what we have to offer. I am a firm believer that if I can get someone to come here, they will see what’s so special about this city.”
The City of Ruston’s key economic driver is education, and it is home to two colleges. Louisiana Tech University is a nationally ranked research university with nearly 13,000 students that is very strong in engineering and business. Grambling State University, which is situated three miles from Ruston, has most of its students, professors, and staff living and doing business in Ruston. It also has Louisiana Delta Community College Ruston Campus and the Lincoln Parish School Board.
“It’s a well-educated populace,” says the Mayor. “Anytime you’ve got two colleges within three miles of each other, education is going to be at the center of it.”
Other large employers in Ruston are in the health care, engineering, and tourism sectors. “We’ve got great mountain bike trails, parks, and the Squire Creek golf course, a Tom Fazio designed course which is about ten miles from here and ranked second in the State of Louisiana,” explains Mayor Walker. “We’ve also got quite a few museums.”
The City of Ruston is always working to recruit new companies. “Not only do we want companies to come to Ruston, we also want companies that we can partner with. We want to develop a true partnership.”
With its reputation for having a wonderful work ethic, the City of Ruston definitely has a lot of appeal for businesses looking for a place to set up shop. “We’ve got lots of land available,” says Mayor Walker. “And we have investors who will invest in buildings for the companies.”
The fact is that there are companies in Ruston that could have established themselves anywhere but chose Ruston instead. “Companies locate to and stay in Ruston because there’s something very special about this place,” adds the Mayor. “Excellence is made here.”
One particular company brought its production from China to Ruston. “They say that when they have something they need or concerns, they can pick up the phone and call us. We may not always get it done, but at least we will point them in the right direction, and they feel like we’re a partner, because that’s what we have told them from the start.”
When representatives from the company in question were visiting, trying to determine whether or not they were going to bring the business to Ruston, a funny thing happened that would show them what Ruston is really made of. “I was out of town,” says Mayor Walker. “And they decided they were going to leave the university and go to a restaurant I’d taken them to. On their way there, a police officer pulled them over. It was simply because their back tire was flat. From there, the police officer proceeded to escort them to the tire store, drive them to a restaurant so they could eat while waiting for the repair, pick them up again once they had finished eating, and return them to the tire store. As they left the City of Ruston, one commented that he’d never seen such a special place where people want to help, where you feel like you’ve lived here all your life even though it’s the first time you’ve ever visited. You’ve just got to feel it and see it to believe it,” says Mayor Walker. “There’s definitely something special about Ruston.”
Cooperation is another of Ruston’s strengths. “I really believe that cooperation is the key to us getting things done: cooperation between the university and the city and vice-versa, cooperation between individuals, churches and businesses – everyone wanting to pull together,” says Mayor Walker.
The city is looking to attract more demographics. “In addition to being a city where people want to come to retire, we want to make this city a place where college graduates want to stay, start businesses, and raise families.”
In the last two years, Ruston has increased its revenue yearly by $3 million, and in its attempts at “Moving Ruston Forward,” has put focus on quality of life issues. The city has added a new Farmers’ Market and fifteen miles of bike trails. “We were a two-college town with zero bike trails,” laughs the Mayor. “Now, we’re taking an old railroad bed that runs through our city, calling it the Rock Island Greenway, and it’s going to tie into Louisiana Tech,” he says.
“We’re one of the few cities in the State of Louisiana that has curbside recycling,” says Mayor Walker. “We’re also doing more activities and expanding what we do downtown. This year, we had tremendous Christmas light decorations. It was the first time that we’d done something big like this, and we had people coming from everywhere just to see the lights and eat in one of our restaurants.”
The city has also had a big push on social media. “Not only do we use it for putting out information, but also for getting information,” says the Mayor. “We do lots of surveys. For example, to find out what kind of restaurants our residents want most, we might make a survey, to then go after restaurants based on that information.”
The City of Ruston also recognizes some of its city staff on Facebook. “It’s been a tremendous hit; our employees absolutely love it. When we feature staff, from guys in the public works department who spend countless hours putting Christmas lights up, to the garbage collectors who get up and work at 3 am, it’s just amazing how many people respond to it,” Mayor Walker shares.
“This attitude in Moving Ruston Forward is huge because not only are we working on water, sewer, and street projects, we’re working on lots of other things, too. We’re building a brand new, state-of-the-art, animal shelter. Animals are a big deal in the South, and we had an inadequate shelter, so we’re upgrading it. It will be one of the best, if not the best, in the state.”
As well, “Sports are big, and travel ball is huge,” says the Mayor. “So, we’re investing $20 million in what will be the best sports complex within a three-state stretch area. We will have twenty-five fields: girls’ softball, Peewee baseball, Dixie baseball, high school baseball, as well as tennis, soccer, and football, and all will be turf fields.
“We’re trying to keep as many trees as possible,” continues Mayor Walker. “It’s a very nice complex with artificial turf, so we can play quickly after a rain storm. It’s going to be a first-class facility, and it’s going to become one of our leading economic drivers because of the amount of money that those types of tournaments bring into a city on a given weekend.”
The City of Ruston takes great pride in its accomplishments. “Ruston will one day be the example that cities look to,” says Mayor Walker. “We’re a blueprint of how to go from a sleepy, wonderful town to a very progressive city while holding onto our history and providing the quality of life that makes it a great place to live for college students, retirees, and everyone in between.”