Located in South Central Acadiana, Vermilion Parish, Louisiana has been dubbed the “most Cajun place on earth.” The Cajun way of life has certainly influenced the history, culture and flavor of Vermilion Parish, but the community’s diversity – be it cultural, economic or social – is its greatest asset.
Vermilion Parish is finding new ways to take advantage of its many assets. Stakeholders are coming together to promote growth, secure opportunity and develop potential that will help its 60,000 people for years to come. These goals cannot be achieved in the absence of collaboration, and many influential parties have come together in Vermilion Parish to see to it that economic and community visions come to life. At the heart of this is the Vermilion Economic Development Alliance (EDA) which was established in July, 2014.
“A win for our region and for our state is a win for us, even if it’s indirect. This organization definitely has its hands in a lot of different things locally, regionally and statewide, and we’re hoping to expand that and work with partners to really provide that connective tissue to other states, organizations and companies along the Gulf Coast,” explained Executive Director Anne Falgout.
The decision to name the organization an alliance was intentional Falgout recalled. “When I got here, we didn’t have a name. We had a district that our jurisdiction kind of fell over – the Vermilion Economic Development District – but we didn’t have a name for the organization.”
“So we strategically chose the word alliance for the end of our organization’s name because that’s what we are. It’s government, workforce development, public entities like our organization, private companies and residents all coming together to develop the parish.”
Partners of the EDA include The Vermilion Parish Police Jury, Vermilion Chamber of Commerce, Abbeville Harbor & Terminal, Vermilion Parish School Board, City of Abbeville, Village of Maurice, Town of Erath, City of Kaplan, Town of Delcambre, Town of Gueydan, and the Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The Vermilion EDA is a relatively young organization that is having a significant impact on the parish, having taken root to become an indispensable economic and community actor. The Vermilion EDA is responsible for a number of initiatives that are having great success and are paving the way for the future.
Vermilion EDA offers the usual economic development services and resources such as business visitations and one-on-one consultations, but extensive efforts have been undertaken to promote workforce development and networking opportunities in the community.
There is a women’s network that engages and empowers professional businesswomen in the community to maximize their potential as community leaders and successful entrepreneurs. The Vermilion EDA also hosted a very successful job fair that welcomed over fifty employers and seven hundred job seekers. Next year promises to be even bigger and better.
The Vermilion EDA conducts business walks in collaboration with local elected officials and business leaders to better understand the needs of the local business community by meeting with them where they operate on a day-to-day basis.
“We look for familiarities within our business community geographically,” Falgout explained. “We noticed that certain geographic groupings of businesses share the same obstacles and the same benefits of being in that area,” so the economic development agency went into those areas.
“We actually get out, pound the pavement and walk and visit with them on their turf, see how they operate their business, listen to their challenges and look for ways that we can provide big picture infrastructure support or resources,” said Falgout.
From the walks, the organization recognized a clear need for workforce development and business support year-round, not just during the annual job fair. Though the fair was a great success, more work needed to be done to sustain its momentum.
That’s when the Vermilion EDA launched the Vermilion at Work program, a dedicated pathway for employers and job seekers in the parish. The program put surplus funding from the job fair to good use.
To support the community’s strong entrepreneurial spirit, a regional partnership called INNOV8 Acadiana brought together eight parishes to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs, businesses, leadership, investors, mentors and the community to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.
Falgout also served as the chairperson of the Acadiana Regional Alliance, which is takes a super-regional approach to economic development in the region. In her role, Falgout organized a very memorable event in which more than sixty local representatives went to the state capitol to showcase the region’s assets.
“The Acadiana region has a really strong sense of culture, community and unity among us so I really wanted to reinvigorate this event called Acadiana Day, where local representation from our area partners would travel together to the state capitol to meet with our legislative delegation to talk about issues that impacted us all,” Falgout said.
In 2013, Vermilion Parish was included as part of the Lafayette MSA, which is a testament to its strength as a social and economic player in the region. “If you look at commuter data, if you look at migration data, and if you look at the way consumers move in and out and across our region, there’s an interdependency that hasn’t been there in recent years,” Falgout said.
“We’ve become a major player in providing opportunity, housing and access throughout our parish, and we are very strategically located at the northernmost area of the Gulf of Mexico, so we’re the closest access point to get out to water.”
Vermilion Parish has a very convenient site halfway between Houston and New Orleans. Residents have east-west access along the I-10 corridor via multiple state highways, and the region has plans to strengthen these connections in the coming years.
Vermilion Parish has north-south access along I-49 via highway 167, and this asset has potential that has yet to be fully realized. Transportation, logistics and proximity to large centers play a leading role in the parish’s economic growth and the success of the region. It also benefits from the Abbeville Chris Crusta Memorial Airport, the Port of Vermilion Abbeville Harbor and Terminal District and some of the U.S.’s most abundant natural resources.
Vermilion Parish is home to Henry Hub, which is the pricing point for natural gas futures contracts that are traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). The region acts as a nucleus for much of the offshore drilling activity taking place off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico.
Vermilion Parish has long been a center that served the oil and gas industries and has grown with and been affected by the cyclical volatility that is characteristic of the market. The Vermilion EDA is doing all that it can to adapt to the changing market conditions.
“As much potential as we have now, we see the next five, ten, fifteen years having even more opportunity as the region continues to be a major player and grows in the energy sector. We hope to adapt to, and hopefully pioneer, some new technology in response to the changing market so that we can continue to be a thought leader,” said Falgout.
Vermilion Parish has a strong agricultural foundation upon which its community has been built. In addition to cattle, soybean and sugar cane farming, Vermilion Parish has substantial rice production which has led to innovation.
“Rice production is a finite thing; it has a start and a stop date between seeding and harvesting, and in agriculture, if you aren’t actually growing or producing something, it’s lost opportunity. It’s lost wages, and it’s lost economic development product, so the farmers here that produce rice don’t just sit on their hands when rice is not in season,” explained Falgout.
“They’ve figured out a way to use rice fields that are purposefully flooded with water and seed them with crawfish, which is quickly becoming a crustacean coveted in the culinary world.” In addition to crawfish, there is a large shrimping community which supports seafood processing and food production in general.
Looking forward, there is potential in agricultural by-products which can provide additional economic growth through biofuels. The Vermilion EDA has been identifying new upstream and downstream applications for its traditional growth sectors.
Advanced manufacturing is also being examined. “A lot of people think of smoke stacks when they think of manufacturing, but what we’re talking about is using highly advanced engineering concepts and technology to build tools for the oil and gas industry or other industries,” Falgout noted.
Vermilion Parish is home to a hardworking, innovative, forward-thinking population who can support diverse industry sectors. The labor force in Vermilion Parish is certainly an asset that the Vermilion EDA is doing its best to put to work.
The parish it is not looking to grow for growth’s sake but rather planning growth that makes sense for the community and business in the long run. Falgout and the Vermilion EDA see no benefit in short-sighted development goals.
Falgout does not want the parish to be like any other place. “Why would we want to be like anybody else?” Vermilion Parish is a strategically located, large land mass with a small population that has room for growth and happens to be picturesque and home to varied nature and wildlife. “We’re excited about the potential that we have,” said Falgout.
“We’re focusing on site and infrastructure development and looking for opportunities for business parks and industrial areas while maintaining our integrity as a community. We want to remain a clean, great place to live, great place to retire and start a career too, and we’re trying to keep that all in balance.”
“We want to make sure we preserve everything that makes us wonderful while we take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way,” Falgout said. “This is a place where your ideas can become a reality.”