Baton Rouge ranks fourth in nation for business expansion projects

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 11:30pm

The Baton Rouge area once again ranks among the best places in the country for business expansion.

Site Selection magazine announced in its March issue that Baton Rouge ranked fourth among cities with 200,000-1,000,000 people for the total number of new corporate facility projects.

2012 was the third straight year it has placed in the top ten. It fell from first to fourth, because the number of new projects dropped from 38 in 2011 to 34 in 2012.

But the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said 2012 may have been the best year Baton Rouge has ever seen for the growth of big business, and the trend may well continue into the future.

Site Selection is a trade publication that caters to people who help companies move and grow, so being listed anywhere in the top ten provides increased exposure to Baton Rouge.

"These rankings will result in further deals potentially coming out of it," said Iain Vasey, BRAC's executive director of economic development.

At first glance, falling behind cities like Dayton, OH, and Omaha, NE, looks bad. But Vasey thinks the rankings are misleading.

"It doesn't reflect the quality of the deals," he stated. "For example, the way the rankings... you know, you could have a billion-dollar project, or a two billion-dollar project like CF Industries did last year, but that still only counts for one point on their scale."

BRAC was directly involved in 13 of the 34 projects announced in the region. They will create 1,128 new jobs and $3.5 billion in capital investment. A good measure of the quality of those projects is that the average salary of the jobs they create will be just shy of $70,000, which BRAC said it the highest in its history.

"That's a lot of folks that are going to be supporting families," Vasey noted, "buying homes, buying new cars, and shopping at the mall."

The low cost of natural gas pulled many of the companies to South Louisiana, because it is used as fuel or in chemical reactions.

Another draw is work put in by BRAC before a company even considers expanding. It pre-certifies locations, with help from local government agencies, so companies can waste as little time and effort as possible in the decision-making process.

"A consultant or a company can come in and say, 'do you have a site, a 50-acre site?' We can say yes, and here, we've done all of the homework," Vasey said.

He added that BRAC tries to maximize its resources by targeting companies in a select group of industries. They tend to be sectors in which it can point to proven success: energy, information technology, technical research and consulting, back office support/shared services, and fabricated materials.

"We're really kind of trying to focus our efforts into a number of key sectors, where we'll get the biggest economic bang for the buck, and where we stand the greatest chance of actually converting those leads into wins," he said.

Vasey estimated that $100 billion of new expansion could take place in the South over the next few years. To be able to capture it, Baton Rouge's biggest challenge will be training and bringing in workers.

"We're going to need to get that skilled labor, those welders, those pipe fitters; the people that put the plants together," he said. "We're going to really need to start recruiting a lot of those folks. And it's not just us, it's all of the states along the Gulf Coast." 

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