Looking back on the past and selecting those newsmakers who have had the greatest impact on the region is a challenge. Peering into the future requires more of a sense of anticipation and expectation.
Based on how 2011 ended, 2012 promises significant activity in local government as it influences policy both within and beyond the region, economic development as plans promise concrete indicators of progress, education as learning turns to application, and cultural development in terms of attractions and the venues that provide opportunities for residents and visitors.
Here is a list of the 12 people and organizations to watch in 2012.
• Jane Arnette – South Central Industrial Association executive director
Those who know South Central Industrial Association Executive Director Jane Arnette, know she describes herself as hyper-kinetic. Arnette said she has no intention to slow down in 2012.
The SCIA administrator, who has now marked her 10th anniversary with this 15-year-old organization, said there is plenty that is worth watching in 2012.
Arnette is particularly proud that this organization – comprised of business leaders, many of whom are competitors on the open market – comes together to pool interests, provide common activism and contribute financially back to the community.
“Our interests are coastal issues where we financially support Restore and Retreat, Morganza Action Coalition, LA1 Coalition, Houma Navigational Canal Coalition, the I-49 Coalition, the Terrebonne Academic Foundation, the Lafourche Education Foundation and we have seven scholarships that we give to high school seniors,” the administrator said.
SCIA has also developed a foundation through Fletcher Technical Community College in which a professorship is financed.
One SCIA project under development is a congressional summit to be held in Houma on a 2012 date yet to be determined. “We are planning that,” Arnette said. “Our plans are to bring a group of congressmen, both a Louisiana delegation and a national delegation, to Houma and have them tour the levee protection systems and do a flyover to see the loss of land we’ve had and the building processes we are going through.”
Part of the congressional summit would include a trip to Port Fourchon for an overview of issues at the nation’s key energy receiving area.
“The whole point is to show them how important it is to see what is happening, how we have advanced, where we are and the impact on the nation,” Arnette said.
SCIA is one of eight organizations that will receive funds from the Greater New Orleans foundation in 2012. Financial assistance will be placed in the SCIA Work It program, which educates youth about career paths of the region. BP has also provided funding to the Work It program.
A new maritime management curriculum at Nicholls State University is being developed with assistance from SCIA members, which could become a model for use across the United States. A foundation for this program has been established with $5,000 seed money from SCIA.
“There are a whole lot of things we are doing,” Arnette said. “It is about looking at the industry as a whole and fostering the needs of the industry.”
• Michel Claudet – Terrebonne Parish President
After being re-elected to office in 2011, Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said 2012 would be the year when more of the projects begun during his first term will begin reaching completion.
Some things that should be completed or making good headway in 2012 include the widening of Hollywood Road from Martin Luther King Boulevard to La. Highway 311; completion of the Ashland, Shrimpers Row, Summerfield and Baroid (Deweyville) pump stations; and improvements to marinas, launches and bridges are also included on Claudet’s work list.
A businessman, lawyer and CPA by training and trade, the parish president has said he incorporates knowledge and experience from those positions to make government work.
In 2012, Claudet said his intention is to see the completion of projects to a level that the public will be able to see and realize improvements that have come along since his taking office four years ago.
“We couldn’t get any of these projects completed without the cooperation and dedication of the people of Terrebonne Parish,” Claudet said looking toward his second term in office. “What you would have seen when we took office and after Hurricane Gustav was so different than what you see today. Is there room for improvement? Yes. We have demolished blighted properties and removed derelict vessels from the bayous. And there is more of that to come, as well as completion of these other drainage, hurricane protection, infrastructure and quality of life projects.”
• Stephen Hulbert – Nicholls State University President
Growth with added facilities and offerings will make an impact on 2012, according to Nicholls State University President Stephen Hulbert.
“Nicholls has had an incredibly strong year [in 2011] in terms of graduation of students,” Hulbert said. “Our highest in the history of the university at more than 1,200. That is a reflection on the quality of students coming to Nicholls and their progression to a degree.”
Hulbert said looking ahead to 2012 offers evidence of a foundation upon which greater growth can be expected.
A new recreation center is scheduled to open by summer 2012, and state support has been offered for the John Folse Culinary Institute building that will begin construction in fall 2012.
During his nine years at Nicholls State University, Hulbert said he has seen more students that take the traditional liberal arts programs do so with advanced degrees and careers in medicine, law or other professional areas in mind.
“In many cases there is very much a career object in place,” Hulbert said. “There are plenty of opportunities in 2012. I think the partnership we have forged with Fletcher Technical Community College is such that together we are serving the needs of post-secondary higher education in a four to eight parish region. I think it is that partnership that has allowed Nicholls to enhance its graduate program.” The university president said an announcement and implementation of new graduate programs would be announced later in 2012.
• Travis Lavigne – Fletcher Technical Community College Chancellor
Crediting a close working association with Nicholls State University as advancing student options, Fletcher Technical Community College Chancellor Travis Lavigne said that increasing numbers of students are being equipped with real job skills to invest into the community.
“The new college campus [on La. Highway 311 at Weatherford Road] is scheduled to be completed in June,” Lavigne said. “If everything goes smoothly we hope to be offering classes there in August.”
As a new main campus, general education, academic classes and technical courses will be among the offerings.
Fletcher has been credited with offering training that is realistic in fitting industrial employment needs of local industry. “We are going to continue with our integrated technology program, which is associated with deepwater exploration and the training of production operators,” Lavigne said. “That will be expanding this year.”
The chancellor expressed appreciation for the interest and support his institution has received in the Tri-parish region. He also credited working in conjunction with Nicholls State University in Thibodaux as enhancing program offerings and drawing the overall community into a tighter and more productive relationship.
“I can’t say enough about the good things the community and our great working relationship with Dr. [Stephen] Hulbert and Nicholls State University has done,” Lavigne said. “It has supported the development of the community college. Dr. Hulbert and his entire team have been so supportive.”
• Jerry Larpenter – Terrebonne Parish Sheriff
There is a new sheriff in town – or, rather a returning one with new ideas for improving not only that office, but also the parish at large.
Having served 22 years as sheriff, then being re-elected to that position in 2011, Larpenter indicated that four years out of the public spotlight allowed him time to look at opportunities for improvements.
“I got some good plans of what I want to do,” Larpenter said. “I’m going to make the sheriff’s office more accessible to all the officers and the public. I’m planning on meeting with all the government entities about working closer to one another.”
Among the sheriff’s objectives for 2012 is the establishment of a business committee with local merchants and business owners to not only fight crime but also offer help in emergency situations.
Larpenter said he wants to work with the district attorney’s office to establish a night court system to handle minor cases and not take people away from their day jobs to show up for court during traditional business hours. He would also like to see the establishment of a domestic court during so-called after hours.
“These people can’t afford to miss a day or two of work,” Larpenter said. “It is going to help people.”
“I don’t want to reveal all my plans right now,” Larpenter said. “But it needs to be done. I have found out that if you pool resources there is more you can do. There are going to be some changes in 2012 and it is going to be for the good of the public.”
• Kirk Meche – Gulf Island Fabrication President and Chief Operating Officer
While other manufacturing corporations across the nation were cutting positions in 2011, Gulf Island Fabrication put out the call that it needed 300 more workers.
“We have the largest backlog in our company’s history right now,” Meche said. “It is time to produce.”
Houma-based Gulf Island Fabrication is a global leader in the construction of specialized structures and vessels used in the oil, gas and marine industries. It is also one example of the many Tri-parish companies that carry worldwide influence.
While the third quarter of 2011 saw Gulf Island hit with a nine-month net loss of $3.6 million – due primarily to a federal block on offshore oil production – the company also experienced a revenue backlog of $664.7 million and labor backlog of 5.2 million man-hours.
“We’ve got some very large projects for this year,” Meche said. “I hope our earnings improve as we start on this backlog. It is up to us to produce, bid these things properly and bring these things in on budget or below budget.”
Meche explained that in the fabrication industry, many projects taking place today were first entered into contract two to four years earlier, and do not follow trends of the overall economic market. Manufacturing and production companies in Tri-parish region have been maintained because they were established before the national economy took a downward turn.
“I hope our current [presidential] administration would try to emphasize the importance of oil and gas,” Meche said. “I think you may see a little bit of a relaxation for these oil companies to go and explore. I think that would have some positive aspects for us, but it takes having a lot of projects going to keep our organization busy.”
Manufacturing in the Tri-parish area, according to this expert, was protected in 2011 only because of advance planning. The impact of that planning helps industry here rebound faster than in many parts of the country.
“I think we are looking forward to a very healthy and robust 2012,” Meche said.
• Christy Naquin – Bayou Country Children’s Museum Executive Director
Keeping the culture alive and offering both entertainment and education is not kid’s stuff for Bayou Country Children’s Museum Executive Director Christy Naquin.
Having been planned for 12 years, the children’s museum received a $2 million combined-resource participation loan in December 2011 that paved the way for construction to begin and be completed by September 2012. The $3.5 million project includes $1.5 million funded through cash and pledges from private individuals.
“Most children’s museums are educational,” Naquin said regarding this center’s mission for learning. “We know that children learn through play and we want this to be where kids can learn as they play.”
Naquin said the Bayou Country Children’s Museum is designed to be a unique offering by offering a local influence. “Ours is going to preserve and promote the Cajun culture through the exhibits we are going to be showcasing,” she said.
Naquin worked in tourism marketing for 15 years and was on staff at Oak Alley Plantation during Hurricane Katrina. “That one incident led me down a path that has led me here,” she said. “I’m thrilled about it.”
The Bayou Country Children’s Museum will be housed at the Acadia Plantation Development near Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.
“The next 12 months are going to be so busy for us,” Naquin said. “When you are starting from scratch it is a matter of writing policies, handbooks, job descriptions, and hiring people. We are also focusing on field trip bookings so we will be ready for educators. Other than picking out paint chips and carpet there is a lot more to do.”
• Charlotte Randolph – Lafourche Parish President
After winning an unprecedented third term to office in 2011, Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph said her focus is on what needs to be accomplished during the next 12 months. “Right now I want to make the next four years the best we have had,” she said.
“2012 will be a great year for the completion of projects that the public will be able to witness and benefit from,” Randolph said. “We’ve been talking for a couple of years about pump stations and other protection projects and now they are finally coming to fruition. It will be an exciting year because of that.”
The Lafourche president said that drainage and other associated efforts often become bound in the process, so it is particularly encouraging to see them completed in subdivisions, such as Twin Oaks and Alidore, that had been plagued with problems.
“A highlight for 2012 will be the construction of a central market in Raceland, allowing local farmers and fishermen to sell their wares to the people of the parish as well as [travelers],” Randolph said. “That will be a great opportunity to bring people together to talk about how to grow the biggest tomatoes, talk about days gone by and solve world problems all in one setting.”
Addressing the splitting of both Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes into two congressional districts, Randolph said she has encouraged people running for the offices that would represent the newly drawn districts to learn more about why Lafourche and Terrebonne are similar and need to be taken into consideration as a whole.
“We are using money BP provided for tourism and our Dig In campaign is exciting and innovative,” Randolph said about drawing people to the region
• Janel Ricca – Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center Director
Nearly every weekend is booked during the first six months of 2012 at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center, and Director Janel Ricca believes key events and activities could make this year the one that establishes Houma as a serious convention destination.
Along with entertainment events such as the Harlem Globetrotters appearing on Jan 24, and major meetings including the Louisiana Police Jury Convention on Feb. 23-25.
“We have a very busy year,” Ricca said. “We are going to be pretty busy. We are constantly trying to get more events and want to get sports tournaments since we got our sports court. It would be great for the community.”
The 14-year-old civic center, and the community at large, benefited with the opening of the neighboring Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in November 2010. “We would not have gotten the police jury convention without it,” Ricca said. “Conventions book years in advance. And there has been a lot of interest for the next few years among conventions.”
Variety is critical to public offerings and civic center survival. For Terrebonne Parish, family shows and bull riding draws the largest crowds.
For Ricca, 2012 is expected to be a turning point for the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center. The transition from being a small town operation to a secondary market opportunity could overcome some of the concerns that came with a lack of sponsorship and attendance. “Shows are expensive to put on and you need a lot of support and sponsorships,” Ricca said. “Those are harder to come by now than 10 years ago.”
Ricca holds the goal of scheduling more future conventions during 2012 and establish the complex as a center for sports tournaments. “My goal is to get a muilti-year sporting tournament like the volleyball state championship for November,” she said. “That would be a huge boost for our economy. That is the kind of stuff we are pushing for.”
The Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center carried an operating budget of $1.8 million in 2011 and received a parish government subsidy of $872,151.
• Carrie Gautreaux Stansbury – Cajun Coast Visitor’s and Convention Bureau
Marking her 20th anniversary with the Cajun Coast Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in 2012, Executive Director Carrie Gautreaux Stansbury said that the next 12 months would see the implementation of an aggressive approach to promoting the region.
“[The year] 2011 was about putting our [new] building together and organizing our master plan to create events and get infrastructure that supports the master plan,” Stansbury said.
Starting with a new visitors center at Martin Luther King Boulevard and U.S. Highway 90, that is expected to open in May, Cajun Coast will continue sponsoring popular events such as the Eagle Expo, which involves bird watching in the Atchafalaya Basin. It is also working to offer the development of nature trails in Franklin and Morgan City, and national events to draw visitors to the region.
“Morgan City was the site for [filming] the first Tarzan movie in 1917,” Stansbury said. A documentary on the making of the Tarzan film and urban legends associated with that process lead Cajun Coast to plan a Tarzan Festival for April 12-14 in Morgan City. Stansbury said this event could draw fans from across the country as the Tarzan books mark a 100th anniversary in 2012.
Stansbury confirmed that the purpose of convention and visitors bureaus has evolved from being centers that offered little more than road maps and promotional brochures into a viable contributor to cultural and economic development.
“You know, people have found that bureaus have to be part of the development process,” Stansbury said. “When you see weaknesses in the community and want to be a destination for people to come and visit you have to be involved and active in prodding people in the private sector to get involved. In St. Mary Parish one of our weaknesses is family entertainment at night. Anytime I get a chance to talk about people interested in opening businesses, I say, ‘This is what we need.’ Like the Eagle Expo. We had to do it because no one else was doing it and we wanted to get nature people involved.”
Cajun Coast has been involved in a series of surveys that have prompted its plans for 2012. Stansbury said the results of that strategic effort should be worth watching.
• Steve Vassallo – Terrebonne Economic Development Authority CEO
Expecting 2012 to be a banner year for the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority, CEO Steve Vassallo said multiple programs would generate new ventures, enhance existing business and offer expanded development opportunities for the region.
“I don’t know how many balls we are going to catch in 2012, but I can tell you there is going to be a lot of them up in the air,” Vassallo said regarding TEDA efforts to cover as many areas as possible during the next 12 months.
The TEDA CEO said since his arrival to Terrebonne Parish in August 2011, he took an approach of evaluation and setting the stage for action with the arrival of a new year.
On Jan. 17, a strategic planning meeting for the entire TEDA Board of Commissioners will either accept or scrap Vassallo’s action plan, many elements of which have already taken shape.
“I think 2012 will be one of the most exciting years I’ve ever had in economic development,” Vassallo said. “We are looking at so many different things now, like an oyster hatchery, a new business incubator, the Angel Fund, a new international sister city relationship for economic development and a new sports complex.”
Downtown development is on the to-do list for Vassallo as well as other civic leaders. In 2012, TEDA intends to be more visible in the community and aggressive in its projects. “I want to get a lot more community buy-in in terms of things we are doing,” Vassallo said. “We are also going to be a good catalyst to assist existing organizations achieve their goals.”
Vassallo said that working as lead administrator of a public economic program differs from those comprised of private industry because it opens avenues to target interests of the community at large.
“One thing that is significant for 2012 is our found-again relationship with the South Louisiana Economic Council,” the TEDA CEO said. “There are only eight economic development organizations in the state and SLEC is one the eight. The more we can do with SLEC as far as TEDA goes is a win-win for all of us.”
Plans are in the works for TEDA to establish a business incubator. The location would also provide a new physical home for TEDA.
Vassallo said the secret to existence in economic development is networking. Expect the establishment of a wider network to provide answers for the region in 2012 as long as all parties do their part. “It’s time to fish or cut bait,” he said.
• Arlanda Williams – Terrebonne Parish District 2 Councilwoman
There is more to 2012 than simply serving a second term on the Terrebonne Parish Council according to Councilwoman Arlanda Williams. She has plans and personal involvement that could draw positive national attention to the region.
“I expect the new council to come in with great enthusiasm to continue to move the parish forward,” Williams said. “I expect to be a leader in the council and I will seek the chairmanship.”
Williams served as chair during part of her initial term on the council. She also became actively involved in the National Association of Black County Officials and was selected to serve on the Federal Communications Commission Intergovernmental Advisory Committee. In 2012 she will serve as a delegate with the National Democratic Committee.
“The DNC was my latest [involvement],” Williams said. “I’m very excited about that and I won re-election to the state [Democratic Party].”
Williams said she does not intend to let her involvement in state and national organizations take away from her top priority being Terrebonne Parish.
“I think we are going to do a lot for small business this year,” the councilwoman said. “You’re going to see a lot of action towards that part as a lot of our people being able to bring their dreams to fruition. I think [economic development] is going to be a big emphasis and I will play a part in that as much as I can.”
When asked about her future political aspirations following her new term on the parish council, Williams admitted she had been thinking along those lines. “I’m definitely going to run for a higher office [in 2015],” she said. “I was looking at the parish president seat because Mr. Claudet will be term limited, but we never know where God might ask me to go. So, I’m trying to prepare to work extra hard so when that four years comes to an end the seat will be looking for me and I won’t be looking for it.”
Up and Coming
It is impossible to know for certain what 2012 will bring. Those individuals and organizations that strategically plan and act upon intentions offer a view of what might be expected.
TEDA got a new head man in 2011. He’s on our list of 12 to watch
in 2012. Find out who else made the cut in this report.