What is it about Lafayette Parish that makes the community so appealing to entrepreneurs looking to start a business and to executives looking to relocate or expand to a new market? Lafayette’s progressive business environment and pro-business government are attractive on their own. But, tack on our wealth-creating business base and technological advancements — not to mention our wildcatter mentality — and you have a community that demands a closer look.
In presentations I make in the community, I point out that there are only three ways to create wealth. Dig it up. Think it up. Or, add value to it. Lafayette is a wealth-creating community. When you take a look at the workforce breakdown of Lafayette Parish, nearly one quarter of the workers (24.2 percent) are employed in wealth-creating industries — mining, construction, manufacturing and information. That doesn’t include many of our creatives who are scattered throughout other sectors. When compared to state (18.8 percent) and national (16.5 percent) workforce breakdowns, Lafayette is well ahead of both in terms of employment in these wealth-creating industries. This existing base of wealth-creation is attractive not only to established businesses but also to entrepreneurs who are seeking the opportunity to join their ranks or provide products and services to them.
Lafayette’s concentration of wealth-creating businesses is complemented by our strong tradition of innovative advancements, and now, Lafayette is directing its creative momentum toward becoming a hub for technology in the South. Lafayette’s unique technology package includes resources such as the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, the Fiber to the Premise initiative and a growing bank of digital media assets. Private industry has begun to utilize these public resources to create products and develop practices that differentiate themselves in their fields, as well as promote Lafayette as a next-generation city. Lafayette’s technological selling points that community leaders, including LEDA, have been touting for years are now coming to fruition, enhancing research and development, fostering collaboration on the international stage and providing high-speed data exchanges.
As a community, Lafayette has invested in itself. These investments provide Lafayette with a competitive advantage in retaining and attracting businesses and residents for economic growth. It all goes back to our entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs haven’t just created a progressive business community; their reach can be felt throughout the community — into Lafayette’s arts, education, recreation, government and more.
One entrepreneur who embodies Acadiana’s wildcatter mentality is Alta Baker, president and CEO of Safe Haven Enterprises. Safe Haven works with companies, government entities and private residents to plan how to best protect personnel and property with their disaster-resistant buildings and systems, including fabricated forced-entry and ballistic resistant doors, buildings and modular units. She and her team of engineers, architects and construction experts — using the latest state-of-the-art technology — have designed and created “Safe Havens” that meet or exceed U.S. government specifications and industry requirements that are considered the standard by which all others are measured. These buildings are utilized as guard stations, safe rooms, living quarters, mobile command units, storm shelters and security screening stations. Safe Haven Enterprises’ units are in place in U.S. embassies and petrochemical facilities around the world. Alta has been recognized with numerous awards for her entrepreneurship and the promotion of women-owned businesses, including the 2005 Entrepreneurial Star Award, the 2005 Enterprising Woman of the Year award; and in 2004 she was a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Women Business Owner Salutee.
Like Marianne Bourgeois and Apex Innovations, which I wrote about last month, Alta identified a niche and was able to create a successful and unique business right here in Acadiana.
Lafayette maintains a competitive advantage as we continue to exceed the expectations of entrepreneurs, executives and site selectors. Lafayette continues to successfully brand itself as citizenry driven by its own achievements, and there are few communities in the nation that can match our strides for advancement. Not only do our local investments in technology, infrastructure, education, arts and government translate to the business community, they also improve the quality of life for our residents. This allows many businesses to become leaders in their respective industry while creating significant economic impact directly to our region.
Gregg Gothreaux is president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.