TEDA set to move from Terrebonne government

Smith thriving as collegiate WR
October 14, 2015
Lavis Conoco for sale after 67-year run
October 14, 2015
Smith thriving as collegiate WR
October 14, 2015
Lavis Conoco for sale after 67-year run
October 14, 2015

The Terrebonne Economic Development Authority should move outside of Terrebonne Parish government this week.

The TEDA board was expected to finalize the move in a vote on Tuesday. As of press time, the vote had not taken place.

Parish President Michel Claudet announced the proposed move during Parish Council committee meetings last week. The parish has already started planning for the shift, as TEDA’s move affects a number of departments in local government.

Pat Gordon, director of Planning and Zoning in Terrebonne Parish, is expected to leave his post to join TEDA as director. He previously worked in economic development for Terrebonne in the 1980s, and has dedicated some time to it recently. The change would require him to work with business full-time.

“Now I’ll be able to focus on strictly economic development. It’s a huge challenge, and I look forward to it,” Gordon said.

Claudet said Gordon’s experience in economic development and his knowledge of the community will serve him well in his new job.

“The advantage that Pat has is he knows Terrebonne Parish like the back of his hand. He knows all the people, he knows the players. He knows how to get things done,” Claudet said.

Katherine Gilbert-Theriot, marketing manager of economic development for the parish, is set to join Gordon in TEDA. Gilbert-Theriot will focus on business retention and on bringing new business to the area.

“You’re building relationships in the communities with the businesses, to help them understand what resources may be available to them, and helping to support them in good times and bad,” Gilbert-Theriot said. “It’s all marketing one way or the other, it just depends what sector on that day.”

While Gilbert-Theriot’s position within parish government will not be replaced, someone will have to direct the parish’s Planning and Zoning department. Claudet will not appoint a new director, instead letting whomever is elected parish president choose Gordon’s successor. In the meantime, the division heads in planning and zoning will pull the extra weight.

Chris Pulaski, zoning administrator for the parish, said he will work with Geoffery Large, assistant director of planning and zoning, and Deon Stewart, code enforcement officer II, to handle Gordon’s administrative duties.

“If there’s a particular agenda item that is, say, planning related, then I would attend the council meeting,” Pulaski said. “If that item has more to do with permitting or something associated with that, then Geoff would attend. If it’s condemnation or some sort of nuisance abatement, then Deon would attend.”

Pulaski said he is confident in the department’s ability to handle Gordon’s departure until a new director is put in place. However, he calls Gordon a “great mentor,” and is happy that even with a proposed move, Gordon would still be available in his office three floors above.

“It’s great to be able to, if something comes up, to walk down the hall to his office and kind of bounce it off of him. He’s either got first-hand knowledge of a particular project or item or whatever, or could certainly give you advice on how to proceed,” Pulaski said.

TEDA will function with Gordon and Gilbert-Theriot as the main officers, with a third position in the future for a clerk to assist with day-to-day organizational duties. The staff will work with TEDA’s nine-member board on improving the parish’s economy, according to Gordon. The South Central Industrial Association and the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce each select three board members, the parish council chooses two, and the parish president will choose one.

Shifting TEDA outside of local government is a goal that Claudet wished to accomplish before he leaves office. He promised to make this happen during his term, and seems to have done it in his last 100 days in office. Gilbert-Theriot has seen economic development departments work both inside and outside of government. However, she said that moving TEDA outside of direct purview of Terrebonne Parish Consolidated GOvernment could make businesses more open to coming to the parish.

“When you’re outside, you do have that degree of autonomy. There’s a perception issue that there is that separation,” Gilbert-Theriot said. “Sometimes it helps in your communications with prospects; they feel a little more comfortable because they’re not talking to government. And they can explore ideas without having to commit to something specific.”

Gilbert-Theriot and Gordon both welcome the challenge of taking these jobs while the parish deals with the current oil-and-gas downturn. Gilbert-Theriot said that during booms, she focuses on keeping companies aware of the opportunities available to them, and during downturns, she helps businesses review assistance programs.

“Some are available in good times, and some are available in worse times. But the underpinnings of trying to keep people employed are consistent,” Gilbert-Theriot said.

Gordon looked back on his time in economic development in the 1980s, when a nasty drop in the oil-and-gas industry led to 26 percent unemployment locally at one point. He knew then that the region had to diversify its economy. He said he has seen a huge increase in the retail and medical fields in Terrebonne since that time. While oil-and-gas is still king here, the parish is not entirely dependent on it, according to him.

“The main driver in Terrebonne Parish is, by far, oil and gas. But it’s not all driven by that,” Gordon said. “We have some great plans for economic development, and we’re going to try to present these to the board and see if we can get an action plan and address some of the issues that are of dire need in Terrebonne Parish right now.”

Pat Gordon