Perseverance Pays Premiums in North Webster Parish, La.
By Beth Braswell
It’s just before midnight. Mitch Stubblefield sits at his computer searching for businesses that might be enticed to locate in his rural Louisiana industrial park. “Once they see our laundry list of potential incentives, companies are typically excited about the dollar-saving possibilities,” explains Stubblefield, manager of Northwest Webster Parish Industrial District (NWPID). “Here we are, Smalltown USA, and able to compete with the big boys because of [and he ticks them off on his fingers] our Renewal Community designation; Louisiana Enterprise Zone status; we have multiple state-supported training programs; as a political subdivision with tax-based support we can assist with real-estate costs, bond issues and low-interest loans. And that’s just the beginning of what we can do.”
NWPID is a 160-plus acre industrial park just south of the Arkansas line near Springhill, La. It was birthed in 1978 as property donated by International Paper when the company decided to pull out of town, leaving 2,400 area residents jobless and a community stunned. The five affected towns pulled together and developed an industrial park, determined to reinvigorate their economies.
“It’s exciting to see how the park has diversified our industrial base from its historical sawmill culture,” says Stubblefield. “We recently assisted in the entrepreneurial start-up of a small commercial bakery, and on the other side, we’re beginning preliminary discussions with a major international producer of second generation cellulosic bio-fuel.” From pet food to fiberglass autobodies, the park is home to companies that now offer a wide variety of products and services.
“Several of our companies are projecting operation expansions in 2008,” Stubblefield says proudly. “Bill and Ralph’s Wholesale Food Distributors is a business that started in the back of a pickup truck. Today they are a successful wholesale food distribution business serving a 200-mile radius with a fleet of 23 vehicles. They have our newest facility in the park with 2007 revenues projected at $38 million and they’re growing again.”
Stubblefield says that wood-based industries remain the area’s strength. “We have 843,000 tons of available timber and we produce 150 tons of wood chips per day,” he says. “With the push for ‘green’ sources of energy, we are in a perfect position to negotiate with the wood-based biofuel industry.”
Work force availability is also a selling point for this northwest Louisiana area. Stubblefield says that a recent study indicated about 12 percent of the population is unemployed or underemployed. To retain their youth for future local jobs, a new program has been instituted that allows high school students to train at a technical college in conjunction with their academic studies.
Stubblefield confesses that he likes the challenge of matching companies to his rural Louisiana location. One particularly interesting opportunity is a major transport pipeline near the industrial park that provides access to ports in Houston, New Orleans, even New York. “We’ve got convenient interstate access, adjacent rail and a pipeline for our transportation options. That pipeline could save somebody big transportation bucks. I’m just hunting for that company now,” explains Stubblefield.