Tangipahoa takes its name from an Acolapissa word meaning ‘those who gather corn.’ But these days the parish is gathering a lot more than corn. Instead it’s gathering high-tech industries and major distribution centers on industry-ready sites 40+ feet above sea level, and offering residents and visitors “more fairs and festivals than anywhere in the world.”
Louisiana’s Governor, John Bel Edwards, who hails from Tangipahoa Parish, is a Democrat. Congressmen Steve Scalise and Ralph Abraham who represent the 1st and 5th Congressional districts, which include parts of Tangipahoa Parish, are Republicans. But when it comes to doing business, politics makes no difference, according to Parish President, Charles Robert (Robby) Miller, Jr., elected in January 2016.
“The closer you get to the people who work and live here, [the more] you find that the party is not that important,” he says. “What’s important is taking care of the people and doing the right thing for everyone. We put differences aside and look at what’s good for the community. You’ll get called out if you start being territorial or political. You have to look at the big picture and ask, ‘how do we serve the community?’”
“We have a uniqueness here,” agrees Stacey Neal, director of the parish’s Economic Development Foundation. “People tell me this when they come from outside the state and see how we work in partnerships. City governments, parish government, the chambers of commerce, home builders’ association, tourism commission, the area schools and universities, we all work together.
“On the state level there are industrial tax incentives, property tax abatements, tax credits on employees hired, that kind of thing. On a local level under this administration we’re open to discussion on pilots, the payment of lower taxes, and we’re in the process of setting some Tax Incremental Financing Districts to help pay for infrastructure.”
With a population of 129, 331, Tangipahoa is one of Louisiana’s fastest growing parishes. It extends 65 miles south from the Mississippi state line to within 50 miles of New Orleans and 35 miles from east to west, boasting excellent transportation links with the rest of the country. That’s something which Walmart took into account when they opened a 1 million square foot distribution center with 1,000 employees under one roof, and which undoubtedly attracted C & S Distributors, which currently handles all the distribution for Winn-Dixie.
For years, the parish has been home to Elmer’s Chocolate, which just completed a $40 million expansion. It is also home to Smitty’s Supply Inc. which began in Roseland as a one-man operation 45 years ago and today has emerged as a world leader in the manufacture of lubricants, under their house brands Super S and TriStar, with contracts to supply major companies including Shell, Quaker State and Texaco. Other national and international companies located there include Sanderson Farms, J&M Industries, Graham Packaging, Home Depot Distribution, and Intralox. “Businesses can transport by air, water, interstate or rail. We’ve got it covered on ways to move their products,” Neal says.
Interstates 12 and 55 intersect the parish; the North Shore Hammond Regional Airport in the city of Hammond is home to U.S. Customs and Cargo; there’s a shallow draft port at Manchac on Lake Pontchartrain; there’s Amtrak’s long distance train which stops in Hammond, en route to Chicago; and finally there’s the historic main line of the Illinois Central, now part of CN, that carries freight.
The “long skinny” shape of Tangipahoa is reflective of the fact that the “railroad created the parish,” says Miller, explaining how “back in the day, when the railroad was built, steam trains could only go six to eight miles without stopping to take on water, so that’s why we have a city, town or village every six to eight miles along the track from south to north.”
They start in the south with Manchac on Lake Pontchartrain where Middendorf’s Seafood Restaurant, known for its thin fried catfish has become a destination; next stop is Ponchatoula (aka Strawberry Capital of the World), and after that comes Hammond.
With a population of 20,000, Hammond is home to Southeastern Louisiana University, recognized for its computer science and IT programs, and Northshore Technical Community College, an accredited college that offers associate degrees, technical diplomas and industry-based certificates aligned with workplace needs.
“The parish has a phenomenal partnership with the university and the community college,” Neal says. “They have a rare working and cooperative endeavor agreement where the college holds some classes at the university campus so that resources don’t have to be duplicated and the college allows us to customize programs. If we have a business project that comes in and needs some specialized training, the community college is able to put together a specific program within a couple of weeks. And that also goes for our companies here that may be adding a new line in manufacturing or need safety training or have a new machine and need to have their machinists trained.”
The university also works with industry partners to make sure they are teaching people what they need to know for successful employment. For example, it is the only university in the state to offer a degree program in supply chain management, thereby creating the kind of knowledgeable workforce companies are seeking.
Hammond is also the retail center for the parish, with national chains including Best Buy, J. C. Penney, Lowes and Academy Sports. “But we also do a good job of supporting our local businesses,” Miller says. “It’s a walkable city with incredible restaurants, live music, theatre productions at Columbia Theatre and some sort of art show or wine tasting event every weekend. As you go up the parish, there’s Independence, Amite (the parish seat), Roseland and on to Kentwood at the top of the parish. Everywhere there’s something going on; the problem is deciding which one not to do, because there’s so much happening.”
“We have a lot of the same things as New Orleans – the music and the food – the difference is we’re more family-oriented, but we do have it all,” Neal says, referring to the multitude of festivals, ranging from the Oyster Festival, to Cinco de Mayo, the Sicilian Heritage Festival and the Strawberry Festival beginning in March, continuing throughout the summer and on into the autumn with the six-weekend Renaissance Festival, which sees re-enactors in period costume demonstrating jousting and falconry and which brings in thousands of visitors from across the country.
But while the Economic Development Foundation continues to support the companies and the small businesses which have long been part of the parish, their arms are wide open to welcome more distribution, manufacturing and technology-based businesses looking to open a second location.
That’s by no means a casual ‘drop by and visit us’ invitation, however, as the foundation has been proactive in preparing development-ready industrial sites that have completed a rigorous review process by Louisiana Economic Development (LED) and URS, an independent, third-party engineering firm. Specific site details such as zoning restrictions, title work, environmental studies, soil analysis and surveys are all assessed for compliance and authenticity before a site can be identified by a special notation and logo, meaning that companies considering building a new facility can feel confident that substantial due diligence has been completed and construction likely to remain on schedule. And because these sites are 40 or more feet above sea level, companies can be assured they won’t be susceptible to coastal flooding or storm surges. “In fact, we had people move up here from the area south of Lake Pontchartrain because we’re not in danger of flooding,” Miller says.
He, himself, is originally from Baton Rouge, but remained in the parish where he developed an IT business after graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1984 with a degree in computer science. “Our quality of life here is second to none – we have clean air and clean water, a great school system including Magnet schools and an International Baccalaureate school, an award-winning library system, four hospitals, recreation districts with parks, and more fairs and festivals I believe than any place in the world. So I think we have great opportunities for people to enjoy their lives and great opportunities to do business.”