Area officials embrace new era for manufacturing

Area officials embrace new era for manufacturing

John Dupont | The Livingston Parish News

LIVINGSTON – Epic Piping’s announcement that it will build a manufacturing site and establish corporate headquarters represents a new era for Livingston Parish, according to state and local
officials.

Livingston Parish for many years served as a bedroom community for commuters who work in industrial hubs such as Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes.

The plans by Epic to create 560 new direct jobs – and talk of other industrial projects for the area – suggests that Livingston Parish will get a piece of the pie.

State and local officials agree that the growing industrial presence could significantly alter the landscape of Livingston Parish.

The announcement proved that Livingston Parish could become a major player in the ongoing industrial expansion across south Louisiana, Parish President Layton Ricks said.

“We already have heard we’d double in population because with the plant expansion in Ascension, they’re primarily counting on 60 to 70 percent of the workforce coming from Livingston
Parish, and we knew that would be the case,” he said. “But we had also talked for years about not being able to lure those kinds of industrial and plant jobs that could keep people at home – and now we’re doing it.

“If it allows our people who are highly skilled and highly trained to stay in the home parish and work in their backyard, so to speak, it’s very good for them because it gets them off the road and away from those long­distance travel times and keeps them right here at home,” Ricks said. “It makes Livingston Parish much more than a bedroom community – and nothing could make me
prouder.”

Epic also marks a new era for the Town of Livingston, with a population of around 2,500.

Livingston Mayor Derral Jones, who took office 19 years ago, never imagined the day a project the magnitude of EPIC would locate in his town.

“This will absolutely change the face of Livingston, when you consider how many employees they’re talking about,” Jones said. “People will be looking for housing, restaurants to eat in, cars to buy … it’s a big deal.

“We’re happy to have these jobs,” he said. “Those aren’t minimum wage jobs we’re talking about, either. It’s highly skilled labor, the kind of jobs you want in your community.”

Governor Bobby Jindal said the progress in Livingston Parish leads him to believe more development looms on the horizon.

“There’s more growth to come and more companies that want to come to Livingston Parish,” he said. “It’s a great place to live, a great community, great economy, it has good schools and it’s safe for families and young kids.”

A “business friendly” climate made it conducive for his company to locate in Livingston Parish, said Kent Shepherd, president of domestic fabrication for Epic.

“We’ve worked with the people out here before, they’re great to work with, very supportive and they’ve shown that they can grow this parish in many ways,” he said. “I’ve seen it grow myself
through another company, and we’ve had nothing but great results with this parish.”

The ongoing industrial growth in the parish should trigger a domino effect, said Randy Rogers, president and CEO of the Livingston Economic Development Council.

Local jobs will lead to more revenue for retail and other business sectors in the parish, he said.

“Everything from construction, when those people spend their money here, to when they start making payroll, they’ll be spending that money right here in Livingston Parish,” Rogers said. “For
so long, we had so much of our workforce leaving Livingston Parish to go to work elsewhere, and people tend to shop where they work when they’re on their way home, so we were coming up short on the sales tax dollars. We had a growing economy, but we were struggling to fund it locally.”

The Interstate 12 corridor – the route for many of the commuters to work in other areas – has played huge role in attracting new business.

Everything from Bass Pro and Sam’s Club, to hotels and healthcare facilities and Juban Crossing came largely as a result of the busy thoroughfare.

“The interstate has become the attractive corridor, and we knew this was going to happen,” Ricks said. “It’s going to be a phenomenal growth spurt.

“We’ve seen that already with Juban Crossing now up and running, as well as Bass Pro, Sam’s, the work Garry Lewis has done in Satsuma and the progressive things Mayor Jones has done in Livingston for the water and gas hookups, all because of his foresight,” Ricks said. “We’re seeing some great things, and it’s all because of work as a team – something I’m very proud of.”

The widening to three lanes expanded the growth potential, Jindal said.

“Early in my first term, we made a commitment on the expansion of the Interstate 12 corridor because Livingston Parish is one of the fastest growing areas in the entire country, but we need to invest in infrastructure because that’s what’s brought us here today,” he said.

The interstate played a huge role in Epic’s site selection, Shepherd said.

“It comes both from the convenient shipping of goods and the close proximity to New Orleans and Baton Rouge,” he said. “You can fly in clients both from New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and being Livingston Parish is kind of in the middle. It provides close proximity to both airports, so that serves us well.”

The project may also accelerate plans for a community college on the site of the Literacy & Technology Center in Walker, according to state Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R­Denham Springs.

“We think that on the state scale with the number of workers needed and the skilled positions, maybe this can speed things up,” Pope said.