Parish poised for growth say economic development director
MORGAN CITY, La. -- Despite the possible loss of a major employer which could affect hundreds of workers and with the exception of an unmet pressing need for housing, economic development director Frank Fink is bullish on the economic future of St. Mary Parish.
Fink forecasts a diverse and robust growth in employment and industry throughout the parish in both the short and long term.
“The entire parish is poised to grow as we move into the future with oil and gas being the driving force behind the growth,” Fink said as he sat behind a desk scattered with development proposals and research papers.
While employment in the parish will remain largely dependent on the oil and gas industry, the parish is aggressively attempting to expand its economic structure, Fink said.
“You have to take care of the guys that got you here,” Fink said of the oil and gas industry. “But we have plans and are working on developments that will help us diversify.”
Fink attempted to put an optimistic tone to the rumors of the closing of McDermott International, one of the parish’s major employers. He acknowledged that the company has “been reducing workforce somewhat” but said the company “hasn’t made a firm decision.”
He said that there are about 500 workers left on the yard and the company has a “big shipment out this summer,” so remains hopeful for the short term, if not the long term. Some of the workers are contract workers and not employees of the company.
In any case, the situation at other major industrial companies looks secure and stable. Fink noted that local employers such as Conrad Industries, Oceaneering International, Cameron Ironworks and other “big players” are consistently recruiting more workers.
In addition to light and heavy industrial jobs throughout the parish, Fink foresees job growth in other sectors, especially in Morgan City and Franklin.
“Morgan City’s future looks bright for medical expansion. There are several things that are currently in the expansion stage on that front,” Fink said. He also pointed out that in recent years the city has added what he calls some “formal type restaurants and a number of other quality restaurants.”
Franklin, too, looks poised for a burst in medical-related jobs, according to Fink.
The old hospital building used by Franklin Foundation Hospital was recently sold to MRP-St. Mary. The building and campus, which includes about 4.2 acres, had been vacant since 2007. The building will be refurbished and converted into an assisted living facility according to Fink.
According to MRP-St. Mary LLC representative Scott Gottsche, improvements on the building should begin in the next six months.
Nearly six years ago the hospital replaced the building with a 22-bed critical access hospital, according to the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce. The $18 million, 65,000 square foot facility had its grand opening in 2007.
Amelia is growing on the eastern side of the parish and will see continued growth Fink predicted. A 12,500 square-foot shopping center is almost complete.
A weak link in economic development for the parish remains the shortage of housing, according to Fink’s assessment. In addition to a need for permanent housing, there is a need for hotels and apartments.
Part of that need has been addressed with the construction of nine hotels in the parish in the past five years. Fink expects construction to begin within a year for a 60- to 100-unit hotel in Amelia.
Fink said of apartment development, “We need a developer that has the interest of the parish in his heart,” and the ability to provide or locate financing to make an offer to a landowner that will be accepted. There was one developer that appeared to ready to make such a development not long ago but the deal to purchase the land fell through, he said.
Fink is optimistic that Patterson Mayor Rodney Grogan can bring some housing developments into Patterson and said that Baldwin has about 40 to 50 acres which are under discussion for 170 units of apartments and single family rentals.