BOSSIER CITY — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards touted the economic might of northwest Louisiana, calling it a “powerhouse,” at the Bossier Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit Tuesday.
“A lot of places across our state are looking at what you’re doing in northwest Louisiana and are envious,” he said.
Shortly after being the guest speaker at the Legislative Summit, Gov. Edwards headed across the river to downtown Shreveport for a ribbon cutting and dedication of the old Selber Brothers building.
A $20 million renovation is underway to house a Venyu data center. Once complete, it will be the only tier three data center in Louisiana and one of 46 in the country.
“That’s happening right here in northwest Louisiana,” Gov. Edwards underscored.
He further highlighted the burgeoning technology industry in northwest Louisiana by mentioning the “first class” CSRA building in the National Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.
He also highlighted the Port of Caddo-Bossier, noting its $1.5 billion worth of public-private investment and $17 return for every $1 spent.
“There is no place with more return on investment than ports. That is why, even with a difficult budget, I invested in a port program across the state,” he said.
Gov. Edwards name-dropped all these projects to illustrate that there are “real opportunities in Louisiana and here in northwest Louisiana.”
Edwards also touted infrastructure improvements, revealing that Louisiana had sought $800 million worth of federal transportation grants, being awarded more than $100M. He said that will be applied to the I-10 corridor, which will free up money that will be used in Bossier.
Specifically, to finish the long gestating I-20/I-220 interchange that will offer a ramp and new gate entrance to Barksdale Air Force Base.
“I am dedicated to using those funds and finishing the I-220 interchange for Barksdale,” said Gov. Edwards.
He also said his administration is “committed” to finishing I-49, dependent upon selecting a route. Lastly, he noted his team had worked with Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker and Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler to address the aging Jimmie Davis Bridge.
Gov. Edwards explained the current plan is to rehab the current bridge for pedestrian and bike traffic and build a new bridge for car traffic.
“These are just some of the things we can accomplish together and squeezing our assets,” he said.
In his first few months in office, Gov. Edwards has faced catastrophic flooding in northwest Louisiana in March and recently in Baton Rouge, budget difficulties, political and social unrest, and three legislative sessions in one year.
Gov. Edwards touched upon the difficult sessions he and the Legislature endured last spring and summer.
“We have our fair share of challenges,” said Gov. Edwards. “But we’re meeting our challenges and we’re working hard to create a better Louisiana for our children.”
He explained his priority upon taking office was to stabilize funding for higher education that has faced numerous cuts since the series of budget crises began.
“If you look at it, funding was flat with a less than one percent cut. We had our smallest tuition increase in a decade and the community and technical college system didn’t raise tuitions at all,” said Gov. Edwards. “We have to do this to offer opportunities to our children.”
After special sessions saw many tax hikes to increase state income to address a billion dollar shortfall, Edwards noted they are meant to be temporary and pledged he will work with the legislature to develop a comprehensive budget that will reform the tax structure.
“A lot of that was in the three legislative sessions. It wasn’t pretty and that was short term,” he said. “We have to be smart and engage one another, and I don’t just mean (in the legislature), it’s going to take all of us working together to tackle the biggest challenge of our time.”
He later illustrated that by saying he wants to remove the $.01 sales tax increase passed during the special legislative session.
“That’s not something I am proud of. That’s why we have to create a system that will generate funding without cuts or increases.”
Bossier City Mayor Lorenz Walker gave the governor a vote of confidence, saying, “We know Louisiana is having problems but he and his crew are working hard to solve them.”