The ability to change course and diversify can make or break an area’s economic outlook. The Plaquemines Parish Government Economic Development and Tourism office has capable individuals at the helm, and this area in Louisiana is certainly not suffering. We spoke with Economic Development and Tourism Director Keith Espadron, Jr., to find out more about what’s driving success and growth in this parish.
Venture Global is building two liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Plaquemines Parish – parishes being Louisiana’s answer to the county. The $18 billion investment will produce several hundred permanent jobs with average salaries of $70,000 and a few thousand temporary construction jobs. The project is sponsored by the Port of Plaquemines, and the local government is in full support.
The parish has a population of about 23,000, so the investment by Venture Global will have a huge impact and be an anchor for other, future projects. The first phase of construction, involving an $8.5 billion plant, will begin late 2019 to early 2020 and be finished within three years.
For decades, the parish was mainly a hub of activity for the oil and gas industry and depended on those royalties, but in 2015, the price of oil dropped by half and left the parish reeling. Some drastic cuts to the budget and layoffs for the workforce were warranted, and part of that included the dismantling of the economic development department.
It did not take long, however, before the department was back. It has been working tirelessly to diversify the economy with different industries to lessen dependence on fossil fuel activity. Several projects are now going through the approval stages.
“We are trying to restructure our focus from oil and gas royalties to diversify the economy, taking all different approaches,” says Keith.
The parish is taking advantage of state incentives to do this. Louisiana has industrial tax laws whereby a company receives several tax exemptions during its first few years of operation as one of the Louisiana Economic Development (LED) tools to entice businesses. The ad valorem taxes produced will enable the parish to provide better services to its citizens and have an impact on the local economy.
The Port of Plaquemines is a vital part of the parish’s economic landscape with two of the largest coal terminals in the country as well as oil and gas shipping. Millions of tons of cargo pass through the port here every year. The Plaquemines Parish Port has, in its long-term vision, a plan to build a deep-water port that will be able to offload and load container ships. Once realized, this cargo port will be a game changer not only for the parish but the region.
“We have some of the deepest drafts on the Mississippi River and access to rail. Plaquemines Parish’s Port Property is about 55 miles from the Gulf. We are the gateway to the heartland of mid-America for international commerce and the exporting and importing of goods,” says Keith.
A six-mile railway expansion project is occurring; since for the port to become a reality, the railroad must be expanded. Port staff are working hard with the railroads, lobbying the government, and getting everything lined up as part of this massive undertaking.
Another project at the port is the Plaquemines Liquids Terminal, an oil-exporting facility and tank farm connected to a pipeline to export oil on large ships. This is almost into the construction stages. “The liquid that they will be transporting is crude oil. Tanker ships will be offloaded into storage tanks which will be connected to pipelines in other places,” says Keith.
There are some other industries of note in the parish. Plaquemines has America’s largest commercial fishing fleet outside of Alaska. Fishing and seafood harvesting is a huge industry here, and many families, especially at the lower end of the parish, have been involved in fishing for generations.
“It’s a major part of our economy and a large part of our workforce that is involved in our commercial fishing industry. We do a lot of exporting to other states as well. Twenty-five percent of all the commercial fishing happening in the U.S. comes through Plaquemines Parish.”
“We also have a fish manufacturing plant that produces and ships internationally. Daybrook Fisheries is a large-scale fishing operation that ships fishmeal and is one of the major industries in the parish. Daybrook has been in operation here for fifty years,” says Keith.
But the biggest attraction for tourists is recreational fishing. Louisiana boasts some of the best recreational fishing in the U.S., and people come from all over the country to fish here.
Louisiana, and specifically Plaquemines Parish, is well-known for having some of the finest citrus fruit in the country. Navel orange growing account is one of the largest industries next to oil and gas or commercial fishing. To celebrate, every year, the Plaquemines Parish Orange Festival takes place on the first weekend of December. Everyone comes out for the festival and has a great time celebrating the industry. The parish also grows a quarter of the state’s tomato crops.
Aside from the Orange Festival, other tourist attractions include its wildlife diversity, and two wildlife conservation areas are heavily promoted to attract visitors. People also come for the area’s history.
Fort Jackson was under siege by the Union fleet during the American Civil war in April of 1862 as it protected New Orleans. The fort was even used for training for World War One. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Fort Jackson is now open to visitors interested in history, as is its museum which displays artifacts from the site.
Another advantage is that Plaquemines Parish possesses a larger amount of undeveloped land than neighboring parishes with much greenfield property ready to be used. The Port of Plaquemines has been spurring development in this area.
“We continue to explore all possibilities and promote the idea that we have a lot of land. The port has been purchasing several hundreds of acres of that land and are actively promoting it to potential tenants around the world and not just in the country,” says Keith.
One of the goals for this undeveloped land involves new housing. Real estate development has stimulated the local economy, and it seems as though a new subdivision is popping up every other year, creating a lot of new housing stock in this highly sought-after area.
This is primarily “because of the safety of this community,” says Keith. “Plaquemines Parish is probably one of the safest areas in the state. There is not a lot of violent crime here. The quality of life here is top-notch.” The parish also has one of the top school districts in the state and ranks among the top five school districts in Louisiana annually.
The parish will further its work with the schools and continue to diversify the economy. “The people we employ are excellent at doing that. The development of various projects is a major boost and will increase tax revenues, allowing our government to function at a high level. We have been asked to do a lot more with a lot less, and I feel that we are doing a good job,” says Keith.