By Kevin Shannahan
Area economic development was the theme as over 170 business, political, military and educational leaders from throughout Natchitoches Parish and the surrounding area came to “An Evening In Natchitoches” hosted by the England Airpark Friday, April 5th. The event showcased the multi-million dollar economic impact of the England Airpark to the Central Louisiana area.
The event also highlighted the cooperative efforts of Central Louisiana’s educational institutions in preparing the area’s workforce for present and future opportunities, a prime example of which is the joint effort between Northwestern State University and the Central Louisiana Technical and Community College in the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program. The program presents students an opportunity to earn an Associate Degree in Engineering Technology from NSU as well as a certificate as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician from CLTCC. The students also work in one of seven area manufactures while in the program, earning both money and experience.
Northwestern State University was highlighted throughout the evening. Five outstanding students from NSU’s College of Business attended the event with several of their professors. The evening’s entertainment was provided by several superb musicians from NSU’s College of Creative and Performing Arts,. The musicians were joined by CLTCC Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Sawtelle who demonstrated his keyboard skills for a set.
Brigadier General Patrick Frank from Ft. Polk spoke about the economic impact of the installation on the area as well as the Army’s extensive use of the Alexandria International Airport. Louisiana State Senator Jay Luneau, one of two senators representing Natchitoches Parish, then introduced the night’s main speaker, Don Pierson, Secretary of Economic Development for the State of Louisiana. Secretary Pierson spoke about economic development in our state and the constant competition for new industry as well as keeping existing firms in Louisiana. While the ongoing efforts often have to be kept confidential, he was able to speak of recent successes in retaining major employers in Jackson and Ouachita parishes.
Economic development is critically important to the continued growth and health of our parish and surrounding area. Development is a multi-faceted endeavor that includes everything from education to tax structure and infrastructure. Secretary Pierson’s talk was an interesting glimpse into the workings of one of the most important state agencies to our state’s future.