With tightened budgets across the board, special interest groups throughout the state have been diligently lobbying over the past months in preparation for the legislative session that started Monday. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we look beyond “what’s best for me” and consider “what’s best for us.” With that in mind, Acadiana Economic Development — made up of the economic developers from Acadia, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes — hosted its fourth Legislative Issues meeting in early April. This meeting brings together all of the region’s legislators, gives the AED board an opportunity to share its legislative agenda, and lets our legislators voice their positions on legislation that’s important to the region.

The AED board hopes action is taken by the Acadiana delegation on several issues including workforce development, transportation, insurance, Mega Site creation and economic development funding. These issues, along with the extension and creation of tax credit programs and incentives, are the building blocks to Acadiana’s future business growth.

It’s no secret that workforce has been a key issue for some time. The availability of a qualified, skilled workforce is the No. 1 issue crucial to growth and expansion, according to the numerous businesses we meet with annually. Without an existing labor force or the ability to attract one and proper training opportunities, businesses could be faced with the difficult decision to leave the state or close completely. The state of Louisiana and the Acadiana delegation must continue to fund workforce initiatives through the ongoing efforts of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The Acadiana region is consistently one of the top utilizers of state-issued training grants — winning approval for 75 grants totaling $8.8 million in the 07-08 fiscal year, illustrating the necessity of these programs.

The diversification of Acadiana’s economic base can be largely attributed to the growth of the health care industry over the past 15 years. In Lafayette Parish, health care is the single largest employing industry. Because of that, it is important that the health care industry is recognized as an economic driver in Louisiana and efforts for ongoing recruitment and education are supported at the state level.

Recently, road projects in Acadiana have been in the news; however, many of these projects have been on the minds of government officials for quite some time. In 2008, elected and appointed officials from Lafayette Parish came together to formulate a unified capital outlay plan to present to the state. The top road project discussed was the extension of I-49 south through Acadiana. In order for Acadiana and Louisiana to maintain our vital role in the nation’s energy infrastructure, the upgrade of I-49 from Lafayette through Acadiana must be fully funded by the state, with our delegation leading the charge.

Additionally, the delegation must continue to work toward improving our existing roadway infrastructure. If surface roads are subpar, much of the benefits of having an interstate in our back yard are lost. Our residents and visitors need to be able to get from point A to point B quickly and safely. A key step will be to identify critical issues on a per parish basis in order to see real improvement in a timely manner.

The threat of hurricanes is a fact of life in south Louisiana. One of the negative impacts of recent hurricane seasons is the continual increase in insurance premiums, which clearly impairs recruitment and expansion of our businesses. Government must work to reduce the overall effects associated with our insurance crisis, both today and for the future.

One of the key economic development tools Acadiana lacks is a Mega Site. Mega Sites are typically large, single tracts of land, with infrastructure in place, that are ready for development. For this to come to fruition, our delegation must fully support the concept of a Mega Site for Acadiana — standing ready to support incentives that may be necessary to facilitate land gathering, the construction of infrastructure and business recruitment.

AED has qualified for several Tier 1 and Tier 2 funding grants through Louisiana Economic Development. Monies from these grants have been used for marketing the region in publications and at trade shows around the globe. We encourage the Acadiana delegation, in conjunction with Louisiana Economic Development, to continue to support both Tier 1 and Tier 2 funding programs, with a special emphasis on additional funding provided for those economic development organizations in need of further resources.

Tax credits are key in business recruitment and job creation. Several bills have been filed to update existing credits as well as to create new incentive programs. Legislators are seeking to extend the motion picture and sound recording tax credits that have been instrumental in the growth of the film industry in the state. Louisiana’s Research and Development Tax Credit also is under review this session, as a bill has been filed to outline the amount of the credit and to make the credit refundable. Additionally, another bill proposes to modify the Angel Investor Tax Credit by removing the termination date and changing the rate at which investments are granted a tax credit. Finally, changes to the musical and theatrical production income tax credit will more fully spell out the specific credits live productions may qualify for.

Two bills prefiled will create new programs that can be used to grow business across the state. HB744 establishes the International Business Incentives Tax Credit Program to authorize tax credits for the import and export of certain cargo between Louisiana and foreign countries via Louisiana ports. SB252 establishes the Retention and Modernization Act of 2009. In this instance, “modernization” means capitalized investment by an employer in technology, machinery, building and/or equipment that increases the maximum capacity or efficiency of a facility by greater than 10 percent, among other provisions.

As economic developers, we understand that Acadiana’s competitive advantage lies not only within individual parish lines, but within the region as a whole. By presenting a unified agenda to our legislative delegation, we’ve given them a playbook to take to the Capitol, and we are more likely to see the results we are seeking. By banding together and looking beyond what’s best for me, individual parishes stand to gain by the successes of all of us.

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