By Dan Boudreaux Staff Writer
Terrebonne’s economic development chief says flood protection, aviation and professional services could be the parish’s future strengths.
Terrebonne Economic Development Authority CEO Matthew Rookard outlined his organization’s plans for growing Terrebonne Parish’s economy Tuesday before the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce.
Rookard talked about the importance of local businesses, training workers for the jobs that are available and the need for making TEDA a central hub for business promotion for working with the parish. But he also talked about TEDA’s new five-year strategic plan for economic development.
“We identified three sectors that are already in the community that we can help strengthen and grow,” Rookard said. “But we also, as a community, have to move away from being a one-trick pony. Oil and gas is great. I’m not here to beat up oil and gas. It’s why there is a community here. But we have a responsibility when we know there are ebbs and flows, booms and busts in a market, to do things that allow us to weather those bust cycles.”
The plan seeks to strengthen the three main pillars of the local economy — oil and gas, seafood and agriculture and medical services — and to invest and diversify into three new industries with the biggest potential for growth and economic impact — aviation, coastal restoration and professional services.
Utilizing the region’s experience in flood protection and getting the word out about it could allow the newly forming coastal restoration industry to flourish and bring money in from around the world. The parish could also become an aviation hub by making the Houma-Terrebonne Airport the center for drone manufacturing and testing in the Gulf South. Bringing in professional services like accounting firms that many local companies and people use but that are usually hired from outside the parish would be a boon for Terrebonne, Rookard said.
Some of the main focuses of TEDA are making training for new jobs available to job seekers, brand development for the parish and attracting new businesses. However, but Rookard said one of the most important things his organization does is help local businesses retain and expand their workforces.
“Almost 80 percent of all new jobs on the market come from existing businesses. People like to hear about new and shiny things. I like to talk about new and shiny things. But at the end of the day, it’s the businesses that are already here that create more jobs than any ‘elephant hunting’ we’re going to do in the market,” Rookard said.
Finally, Rookard emphasized the importance of dredging and deepening the Houma Navigational Canal for the future of Terrebonne Parish’s economy, saying that dredging the canal has a huge five-year return on investment and that deepening it will allow the bigger ships that travel internationally to use Houma as a port rather than avoiding the area for other ports around the Gulf of Mexico.