‘We’ve never seen this much money available’

The Advocate / Robert Stewart

Local economic development organizations should dive deep into the litany of federal pandemic relief fund programs to find potential “gems” for their communities, a pair of Louisiana economic development veterans say.

Michael Olivier, CEO of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, told a group of economic development executives that programs to support infrastructure and technology projects are “buried” within the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

The federal packages were part of a tidal wave of dollars sent to governments, businesses and individuals across the country to ward off the pandemic’s financial impacts.

“Have you ever looked at these programs?” Olivier said during a presentation Thursday at the Certified Louisiana Economic Developer Program, hosted by the Louisiana Industrial Development Executives Association.

“If you haven’t looked at these programs, then you ought to study them,” Olivier added. “If you want to be a rock star in economic development, you need to read every one of these.”

The LIDEA session taught economic development professionals from Louisiana, and even across the country, how Louisiana’s economy works and how they can market their communities to potential new businesses.

Olivier, a former secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, leads the Committee of 100, a group of top private sector business leaders in Louisiana. He was joined by Don Pierson, the current LED secretary.

“In all of our careers, we’ve never seen this much money ever available,” Olivier said. “If you want to expand anything infrastructure-wise, technology-wise in your communities, you need to look at these because it’s there.”

For example, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act alone contains funds for improving broadband internet access, implementing renewable energy projects at schools and boosting minority-owned business development, among many other programs.

Broadband access is critical for rural communities, Pierson said.

“Job one for rural revitalization is broadband access,” he said. “If you don’t have it, you’re not going anywhere.”

Olivier said some larger economic development organizations have staff members dedicated to reading federal acts like these “because they’ve learned that’s where the treasures, the gems are located.”

“You can be advising your county government, your parish government, your municipalities across the board, your school boards — because some of the money goes directly to schools,” Olivier said. “Some of it goes directly to the state, some to the parish, some to the county. You’ve got to know how the money can be applied and what’s going to make a difference. You can become the expert.”

Pierson noted Louisiana has already earned money from the American Rescue Plan’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge to support two projects: a plan to develop a “green hydrogen” sector in south Louisiana, and a plan to create a health sciences corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

“Trillions of dollars have been poured out there,” Pierson said. “Our charge from the governor on down is to go out and take down as much of our rightful share of these programs as we can.”

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