Development in Pineville could benefit economy in Avoyelles

Several sites in parish hold potential for economic development


     While sour economic conditions appear to dominate the news, there is a lot of potential for economic development in and around Avoyelles Parish, an official with a private economic development agency said.
     Rick Ranson, vice president for Major Employers at the  Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA), said the new Innovations Park industrial park has been established on the former International Paper property near Deville.
     “It’s still called IP, but its a different IP,” Ranson said with a laugh.
     The Rapides Parish site currently has two tenants, Bayou Gas and Bayou Engineering. There are also two other tenants who are coming to the industrial park but are not ready to announce yet.
     The biggest boost to the local economy would be Revolution Aluminum, which will recycle aluminum into ingots and rolled sheets to then be used to build airplanes and other products.
     “Revolution Aluminum will provide at least 600 jobs with salaries of $80,000, plus benefits,” Ranson said. “It’s just a short drive from Avoyelles Parish, so the impact could be huge.”
     Ranson said he cannot provide a timeline for when construction will begin and when the plant will be in operation, but “things are moving quickly.”
    The company is “asking potential employees and vendors to register on its website because they will use that data base later,” Ranson said. The site is
    Revolution Aluminum bought the property on March 15 and started removing old structures at the site on March 21.
    “As we take this important and historic step forward in the journey necessary to bring our plan to life, we look forward to working with our project partners and especially the community that we now call home,” company founder and CEO Dr. Roger Boggs said.
     Ranson said that many Avoyelles Parish residents were part of the International Paper “community,” and he expects the same relationship with Revolution Aluminum.
     “We are hoping some support companies will locate in this area because of the aluminum plan,” he continued. “Of course, they would not have to be located very close to the plant. If we can find suitable sites in Avoyelles or another Central Louisiana parish, we will locate them wherever we can.”
In-parish potential 
     Avoyelles Parish does not have to be content to look outside of its borders for possible economic development opportunities, Ranson continued. 
     “We have proposed the Bunkie Industrial Park to a number of interested parties,” Ranson said. He said the Bunkie park is “too good” to be ignored by businesses.
     “I can’t say when, but companies will locate at the park. It’s too good of a site,” he said. 
     The Bunkie park’s main advantage over many other sites is that it “has all utility services and streets in  place.
     Ranson said that in many cases, a potential tenant is shown an empty field that is called an “industrial park” with no services in place.
     Louisiana in general and Avoyelles in particular also have advantages of a low tax rate, inexpensive utility cost and low price of land. 
     Those factors put Louisiana in the top-six states nationally, Ranson said. However, he noted that the difference between No. 1 and No. 30 is minimal -- so competition for businesses and industries is tough.
     Bunkie Industrial Park is one of 62 state-certified sites, which means the state guarantees potential tenants that all necessary tests -- environmental impact, flood plain, soil type, etc. -- have been completed and there are no hidden problems, Ranson said.
     "We are currently in the process of certifying 200 acres at the Port of Avoyelles,” he said. State-certification combined with access to a deep-water port on the Atchafalaya would make the site very attractive to a number of types of industries.
     CLEDA is also actively seeking a possible business to buy the canning plant in Belledeau.
    “We had someone in two weeks ago looking at that property,” Ranson said. “I am sure the right thing will come along. It is one of the few properties that has a rail spur to it, which makes it very valuable to a business.”
    The spur is so valuable and so rare that the Belledeau site is the first one CLEDA thinks of if a potential business mentions a need for rail access. 
    The 32-acre site was purchased from Allen’s by Sager Creek two years ago. Sager Creek sold out to Del Monte last year. The plant had been closed for several years before Allen’s sold it. Most of the acreage that had been part of the cannery operations was sold previously for agricultural use.
    Ranson said the Belledeau site appears to be well-suited to a business requiring warehouse space and access to various transportation modes -- rail, highway and river.
    “It may be that the old canning plant buildings could be removed to make way for new construction,” Ranson said. 
    If a tenant shows interest, he said CLEDA’s job is to work to make it happen.
   “Our job is to create new wealth in this 10-parish area,” he said. “We are a privately funded organization, so at every meeting I have to explain to the investors what progress we are making. We work very hard for the parishes we serve.”