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The New Orleans renaissance

By Mike Randle

Today, New Orleans may indeed be America's greatest success story. In fact, Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes, called The Big Easy's comeback One of the great turnarounds in American history.In 2011, Forbes magazine ranked New Orleans the No. 1 "brain magnet" in the country, the same year that Inc. named it the "Coolest Start-Up City" in the U.S. Let's not forget that New Orleans earned something a little less subjective this year. This magazine named New Orleans "Major Market of the Year" based on points earned from projects landed of 200 jobs or more and/or $30 million or more in investment.

The city has come a long way since Katrina. For example, in 2006, my wife Stacy and I were walking down Canal Street on a Monday afternoon. There was no one there. No workers taking a smoke break outside of office buildings – no workers, period – no tourists and few cars. Canal Street was deserted ten months after Katrina.

Today, New Orleans may indeed be America's greatest success story. In fact, Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes, called The Big Easy's comeback "One of the great turnarounds in American history." I wrote recently that "New Orleans is undoubtedly the South's comeback kid of the decade."

The city is a hive of economic innovation and the diversity of recent corporate deals from the likes of GE Capital, Gameloft Studios and Nucor Steel are certainly impressive. But what is more impressive to us is Canal Street and virtually every street in New Orleans is alive again, more so than pre-Katrina. New Orleans was always a special place, but nothing like it is now.

Where the Rio Grande and the Gulf meet

By Lee Burlett

There is a region where Texas, Mexico and the Gulf meet that offers opportunities no place else in the South can offer. International trade and commerce is driving this region that is anchored by McAllen, Brownsville and Harlingen. The Rio South Texas region is the largest border region in the U.S. with a population that is expected to top 1.3 million in 2015. Combined with Mexican markets across the border, the region tops 2 million.

The unique advantages this region offers are numerous. Access to lower-cost Mexican manufacturing is just a bridge away. We are already seeing a wave of manufacturers reshore from China to North America, and Mexico is benefitting in spades.

Cross border economic development has matured since NAFTA was implemented in 1994. The maquiladora program, which operates under Mexico but facilitated by U.S. tax laws, has allowed more than 200 Mexican and foreign-owned manufacturing companies to open large-scale operations in Reynosa, Mexico.

McAllen, Texas is undoubtedly the most visible market in the South Rio Grande region. The accolades just keep rolling in for McAllen, including being named No. 1 in the nation for long-term job growth by Bureau of Labor in 2012. In addition, McAllen had the best housing market in the U.S. this year according to The Wall Street Journal, and the Fiscal Times named McAllen the fastest-growing metro area in the nation.

Lafayette, La.'s Opportunity Machine

By Stacy Randle

Bob Miller is Head Machinist at the Opportunity Machine, Lafayette's start-up incubator, which is sponsored by the Acadiana Economic Development Council (Director Rebecca Shirley center and LEDA Director of LEDA Business Development David Colligan on the right.The creative gears are turning inside The Opportunity Machine (OM), Lafayette's business accelerator and incubator. The most recent in a string of community collaborations, the OM is focused on developing technology-intensive companies in the region, with a mission to "accelerate wealth creation by immersing technology wildcatters into a fiber-powered community of innovators."

The OM was created by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, the University of Louisiana and the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce as a single vehicle to bring together all of Lafayette's technological resources and infrastructure for new business development.

The OM's Executive Director, Bob Miller, also known as the Head Machinist, seeks out prospective OM applicants — looking for those who are willing to apply innovative methods to their business development. The OM staff individually guides prospective members through the application process — from initial idea to business plan development to the final presentation to the OM Steering Committee, which grants membership to the program.

Once accepted into the program, members have access to a variety of resources. Members may be eligible for office space in one of two EcoZones — collaborative workspaces where like-minded, technology-based businesses can share resources and work in close proximity. The OM can connect members with potential investors, mentors and coaches, as well as offer insight from the staff's first-hand start-up business experiences. The OM also offers ongoing education sessions and public events to its members and to the community.

The OM currently has 10 members, ranging from a technology-focused community non-profit, to a film post production outfit, to a digital asset management company. A member since 2010, Rader Solutions, a virtual IT service and software company, started with three employees. After working with the OM, they've diversified from their target market (initially, the lumber industry) and have grown to 12 employees.

Lafayette's business community is known for its "wildcatter" mentality, creative culture and entrepreneurial thinking. Today, community leaders understand the importance of technology-based job growth, economic diversification and educational opportunities; and the OM fills that bill for individuals and businesses.

Houston: Energy capital of the world

By Lee Burlett

No place on the Gulf represents the center of the petrochemical industry more so than Houston. Texas' largest market ranks third in the total number of Fortune 500 headquarters, behind only Chicago and New York. Energy-related corporate headquarters dot the map in Houston, with ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Anadarko Petroleum, El Paso and Noble Energy, among many others, based in Houston.

But its not just oil and gas that makes up Houston's claim as the "Energy Capital of the World." Houston is the center for all things energy, from petrochemicals to wind power. It is the home of one of two locations of The Institute of Energy Research, a non-profit that conducts intensive research and analysis of the functions, operations and government regulation of global energy markets.

While it may seem an unlikely event, Houston is the No. 1 city in the U.S. when it comes to purchasing wind energy. Wind energy companies have been drawn to Houston because of its diverse energy production platforms. Some of those companies include ABB, ALSTOM POWER, GE, Siemens and Vestas.

These companies have helped the Houston region become a poster child for the manufacturing resurgence seen in the South since 2009. More manufacturing jobs have been created in Houston than any other U.S. metro every year since 2009. The incredibly fast-growing energy sector is the primary reason why Houston and other areas of the Gulf Coast have experienced manufacturing job increases not seen since the mid-1990s.

Lake Charles' Chennault International Airport: America's Premier Industrial Airport

By Mike Randle

Randy Robb, Executive Director of Chennault International Airport Authority, gives Mike Randle a tour of the Aeroframe facility.Randy Robb, executive director of the Chennault International Airport Authority based in Lake Charles, La., knows his job. "Our job is to create jobs," he said to SB&D during a recent visit. You've got to love it when words aren't minced in this day and age of the soup of the day practice of economic development. Robb is concerned with one thing and that's creating jobs.

The Chennualt International Airport, formerly the Chennault Air Force Base that was home to the 44th Bombardment Wing in the 1950s and 1960s, is a premier industrial airport that features a 10,700-foot runway. At Chennault, there are several sites that give companies immediate access to that 10,700-foot runway, a length that's capable of accepting the largest aircraft built today.

Chennault provides immediate access to Interstate 10, the Port of Lake Charles and mainline rail. Tenants of the industrial airport, such as Northrop Grumman, Aeroframe Services and Louisiana Millwork, can access tailored, on-site workforce training from Sowela Technical Community College.

There are six sites available for prospective industry at Chennault. They vary in size, yet each has immediate access to the runway and services provided by the publicly-owned facility. There are also a variety of incentives available for locating industry, such as tax credits, abatements, exemptions and Enterprise Zone programs.

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