WBR Chamber of Commerce 2022 Overview | lifestyle

Every year, our Chamber has the same New Year’s resolution – to provide services that enhance the well-being of our team members, our members and the communities where we live and serve.

After two years of rooting out the curves thrown by the global pandemic, the end of 2022 was marked by the near absence of COVID-19 in everyday life. However, the effects of the pandemic are still felt, certainly in the pressures that our small businesses face every day.

As a CEO, I spend a lot of time talking to business leaders. I want to know what they have in mind, their challenges and how our chamber can support them. The conversation always turns to this question: What will the business look like next year, in five years, in 10 years, and beyond?

A huge change is taking place in business and industry. The big driver is, of course, technology; analytics, artificial intelligence and digital transformation will change the way organizations operate and serve customers. But there’s more to the change than cutting-edge technology. There are several other factors at play. Another part of this equation is climate change. Many of our industrial plants are beginning to address major environmental issues through their carbon capture initiatives, showing what a positive impact we can have on the region and state! Last year saw industry leaders and state officials tout how these carbon capture projects could bring jobs and tax revenue to Louisiana while keeping the greenhouse gases that worsen global warming out of the air. It’s hard to ignore the jobs and tax revenue promised to West Baton Rouge through these initiatives — we’ve already seen a wave of stimulus projects that include more than $10 billion in promised inbound industrial projects in West Baton Rouge that will bring nearly 1,000 new jobs. How great would it be to see Louisiana, specifically the Capital Region, be leaders and pioneers in what is sure to become a global initiative in the next decade?

What else is changing business? We know that business needs change. I think the other part of the equation is how we’ve seen schools begin to evolve to meet new organizational expectations. West Baton Rouge was awarded a 2022 Reimagine grant – a new funding opportunity for Louisiana school systems to plan and implement transformative and sustainable local innovation. The purpose is to prepare students for college and careers. With this grant, West Baton Rouge schools will develop a CTE academy offering programs in welding, electrical, mechanical, CNA, CMA and biomedical fields. We are finally giving ALL students a path to success, whether college is on the table or not.

The past year has seen a leadership shake-up throughout West Baton Rouge as Superintendent Wes Watts retires and Interim Superintendent David Corona steps in to take on that role in the education system, impacting our economic development, private industry and more. The West Baton Rouge School System is expected to announce Corona’s replacement as early as March of this year. And surely all eyes were on who would replace former Sen. Rick Ward, who left his seat in the Louisiana Senate last year after 10 years of service. Former Parish Councilman Caleb Kleinpeter will take over his seat this year, serving a district that stretches from Simmesport to Morgan City, with Plaquemine to the east and Krotz Springs to the west.

2022 also closed and subsequently reopened a much-anticipated chapter – the need for funding and placement of a new bridge over the Mississippi River. All three potential sites named are in Iberville Parish, which will certainly change development patterns in the region, specifically West Baton Rouge.

While 2023 is an election year for our legislature, it’s also a fiscal year for the session—an interesting combination. While I believe we will see a lot of posturing from lawmakers this year, I am excited and hopeful for the new wave of leadership we will see in the next 12 months. And let’s not forget that at the end of this year, Parish President Riley “Pee-Wee” Berthelot will retire after serving in the position since 2004. All eyes will be on this race, with Parish Trustee Jason Manola succeeding him.

Check out our report card for 2022

Chamber of commerce

• We held our first annual Small Business Summit where we identified 34 small businesses to work with to apply for government incentives, Covid assistance programs or grants.

• First Annual Comedy Night!

• What’s on the horizon – spring kickball tournament; the first annual “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?” contest; Management West

Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP)

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has released the results of its compilation of information and statistics on the Industrial Tax Exemption Program and program costs to Louisiana local governments for 2021, entering 2022. We are currently still awaiting the report at the end of 2022, but some notable metrics :

Taxes per inhabitant

Deducted and freed

• West Baton Rouge – Ranked #7 in the top 25 parishes

• Chemical manufacturers accounted for 80% of ITEP tax exemptions, with oil and coal products accounting for the next highest share at 6.5%

New ITEP projects in West Baton Rouge:

• Gron Fuels – Grön Fuels, LLC (Fidelis Energy) is a new $9.2 billion renewable fuel complex RIGHT HERE in West Baton Rouge!

o This new plant will create 340 direct jobs by 2024 and produce 60,000 barrels per day (BPD) of renewable diesel with an aviation fuel option enabled.

o At full construction, the complex will include more than $9.2 billion in total investment and employ more than 1,025 direct employees and an average annual salary of $98,595 plus benefits.

o The project benefits from substantial existing infrastructure at its host site, the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, including a recently completed unit train terminal, a large on-site grain elevator, a deep-sea port and a connection to the Bengal Pipeline.

• Arbor Renewable Gas LLC (doing as Magnolia Renewable Fuels LLC) – $800 million generation and distribution facility using emission capture and sequestration and abatement technology in West Baton Rouge.

o Arbor Renewable Gas produces renewable gasoline, sustainable jet fuel and green hydrogen from forest residues and waste wood.

o The project would create 32 new direct jobs with average annual salaries of $99,000 plus benefits.

o Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project would also support at least 110 indirect jobs, for a total of 142 new jobs in the Louisiana Capital Region. The company estimates that construction of the facility would create up to 880 jobs during peak construction.


Real estate tax renewal

• West Baton Rouge voted to renew a 15-mill property tax in November.

• West Baton Rouge property tax equals approximately $8.5 million annually in taxpayer funding for 10 parish schools, one-fifth of the general fund.

• This fund pays for teachers’ salaries, school officials, school structures and resources, and even covers electricity and water bills.

Imagine Grant again

• Reimagine School Systems is a new grant funding opportunity for Louisiana school systems to plan and implement transformative and sustainable local innovation.

• WBR CTE Academy – purpose is to make graduate students college and career ready!

• Offering programs in welding, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, CNA, CMA and biomedical fields

• Community Partners – Placid, Dow, Exxon, Turner Industries and more

New library

• State Rep. Edmond Jordon, D-Brusly, secured $200,000 in state funds to purchase or renovate a branch on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

• This year we will see work to convert the old Fred’s Discount Store into a library for the area between Addis and Brussels.

Looking to 2023

Despite what appears to be a trending economy, West Baton Rouge remains steadfast in its growth—businesses adapt to market changes and continue to find reliable—yet very lucrative—opportunities and ways to overhaul current software, change operations, upgrade employees, improve communications and help customers navigate uncertain times.

And while we’re proud of these advancements and our ability to innovate new strategies and services, we’re also proud of what hasn’t changed at West Baton Rouge: our ongoing commitment to serving our members, businesses and community at the highest levels and doing what correctly.

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