Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. January 31, 2023.

Economic outlook bright, but old obstacles persist

If anyone qualifies as a Louisiana-proud product in our state’s business community more than Brandon Landry, we don’t know of them.

His Walk-On’s restaurants and other brands he has launched from his start as a literal LSU walk-on to the basketball team are a local and regional success story. His office in Baton Rouge stands in the shadow of Tiger Stadium.

So when he says he was forced to open another office in Georgia because of Louisiana’s shortcomings, particularly crime and educational dysfunction, people hereabouts ought to listen.

“People have to feel safe and feel like they get their kids a great education. Those were the two things we were missing” for recruiting people needed to run an expanding and job-creating business, he said recently.

Landry made his remarks on an Economic Outlook 2023 panel of The Times-Picayune ' The Advocate, sponsored by Entergy and LCMC Health.

“We had to go where the talent is,” Landry said. And that, he added, was necessary even though Louisiana’s cultural brand helped make his restaurants succeed.

“There is no other state like us when it comes to our food and culture. That’s how we built our brand,” Landry said.

The same themes were echoed by leaders in a variety of fields: Our economy is driven by our people, and they have to feel safe and be better educated.

Whether from political leadership in Washington or Baton Rouge, Ochsner Health chief Pete November said that “any investment in our workforce and in education is helpful for us.”

Those observations probably are eternal verities for business leaders in Louisiana, but panelists also recognized that the world has changed in many ways, even as they were optimistic about many aspects of the new year in business.

Brandy Christian of the Port of New Orleans pointed to the container terminal to be built in St. Bernard Parish as part of the reordering of the world’s transportation industries after the pandemic — and a larger bid for Louisiana to be the shipping center for the middle of America.

Louisiana’s high-paying jobs in energy and petrochemical manufacturing are expanding: Phillip May of Entergy Louisiana said the state is on the verge of the most dramatic developments in that sector since the 1960s.

“I see literally more than $100 billion in investment coming into Louisiana, with tens of thousands of jobs for our people,” May said.

Some of those investments, such as by Entergy in solar power, will arrive as a result of the worldwide search for lower-carbon industrial development. “Carbon sequestration will be an important part of how we decarbonize industry in Louisiana,” May said.

But May and the other panelists say that educational quality and quality-of-life issues like crime and public safety present barriers to Louisiana’s prosperity and growth.

Security for employees remains an issue for Ochsner’s recruitment as well, November said.

Each of the business leaders had an insight that should drive debate in the 2023 governor’s race, where Gov. John Bel Edwards is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term.

The good news is that despite higher inflation in the overall economy, local businesses are coping and Louisiana’s current economic mix is unlikely to suffer from fears of a national slowdown, or as May put it, not exactly the same kind of recession — “if there is one” — that many fear.

That’s good news — a growing Louisiana economy, if we can keep it.