The St. Mary Chamber of Commerce and Franklin Republican Women, both sponsors of the morning breakfast forum, asked each candidate to identify the top businesses in the parish and expound on how they plan to aid business retention. Also, they were asked what the two most important economic goals are for the parish.
Incumbent Paul Naquin said this parish has faced many disasters, both natural and man-made, during his term. Among them were hurricanes, the BP oil spill and the threat of severe flooding from the Mississippi River.
“The economic goals for the next four years will be to concentrate on job creation and the retention of business located in our parish. Local oil and gas service companies, shipbuilding and supply chain companies are the primary providers of employment in our parish. Jobs are created by the private sector, not the government. Because of this, we must work to cut down federal bureaucracy, and to speed up deepwater permitting so these companies can thrive,” Naquin said.
Naquin’s three-pronged economic development plan includes workforce development through education, housing through a seven-year property tax abatement plan for apartment developers and site infrastructure through road construction and waterway maintenance.
The current parish president said his top priority would be the safety of residents and businesses through the extension of I-49 to the Atchafalaya River and hurricane/flood protection.
The top employers he identified were oil and gas companies (Cameron, Oceaneering, McDermott, etc.); shipbuilding (Conrad, Gulf Craft, etc.); and industries supporting those companies (machine shops, equipment suppliers, fabricators, etc.).
To keep those and other businesses here, he said he would make periodic visits to them in order to better assist with their needs as well as aid expansion projects. The major issue these companies face, though, is the need for deep water drilling permitting, he said.
The parish is best able to assist local industry through grants and infrastructure, he added. Further, he said, it is important to assist entrepreneurs with similar start-up services.
“With my experience … I am qualified to continue to represent you during the next four years. Working together, we have made a difference,” Naquin said.
Gary Duhon, currently serving as District 11 parish councilman at-large, said he knows job creation is vital, and one means of doing so is to reopen the Young Memorial campus in Franklin. Economic improvements through job training encourage the growth of business and new opportunities for the citizenry, he said.
Economic development is the only means for St. Mary to keep up with surrounding parishes. While they experience record growth, we experience one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, he noted.
To turn this trend around, Duhon proposes creating an independent economic development agency. Currently, St. Mary is part of the South Louisiana Economic Council. An independent agency would follow in the footsteps of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, he said.
Funding for the agency could be found within the five municipalities, parish, two ports and private business.
The key components are already here — the Atchafalaya River and associated canals, Patterson airport, Young Memorial, a four-lane highway, large industrial base and the oil industry — and need to be capitalized on, he said.
Railroads also traverse the parish and it is the second largest sugar producer in the state. We have huge recreational opportunities and the “ports are the economic development engines of the parish,” he said.
The top industries in the parish, as identified by Duhon, are oil service industries, shipyards, marine transportation, farming and seafood.
“I can provide the leadership to move St. Mary Parish toward economic prosperity.”