Louisiana Economic Development Behind ConAgra's Choice to Build Delhi Plant

Sept. 23, 2011
Green Plant of the Year winner ConAgra cited Louisiana's economic development organization as being critical to the selection of Delhi for its award-winning facility.

Landing any new plant these days is a coup for a municipality or economic development group. Reeling in a green one, especially in the food & beverage industry, is a particularly attractive feather in someone's cap.

"It's a huge source of pride – for Delhi, for the region and for the entire state," Stephen Moret, secretary of economic development for the state of Louisiana, said of the ConAgra sweet potato plant that won our Green Plant of the Year competition.

When we asked ConAgra officials why they chose Delhi as the location of what undoubtedly would be a landmark facility, they credited the state's economic development organization. "The state of Louisiana was critical to the final selection," says Rick Martin, vice president for manufacturing at ConAgra's Lamb Weston division. "They worked hard at coming up with incentives and creating the right economic environment for our plant."

The city of Delhi was not entirely ready for a plant of this magnitude. The municipality had to upgrade water supply and sewage treatment to accommodate the Lamb Weston project. But the state economic development organization set up low-cost financing so the city could make the needed improvements.

Louisiana Economic Development provided three economic incentives to the ConAgra project:

  • A performance-based grant that grows with the number of jobs the plant creates. It ranges from $32.4 million for phase I, which created 275 jobs, to $37.4 million if employment reaches 600, as planned in a phase II expansion of the plant.
  • A "comprehensive, turnkey workforce solution," as Moret puts it. He's talking of the state's FastStart program, a customized employee recruitment, screening, training development and training delivery program for new or expanding companies – all at no cost. Moret claims Louisiana FastStart was called "the nation's best state workforce training program according to Business Facilities magazine."
  • Industrial tax exemptions. They provide tax exemptions for real and personal property for up to 10 years.

"This was a very attractive project for us to get," Moret continues. "It's not just the potential for 500 or 600 jobs. We were very excited that they were planning on getting LEED certification. [Parts of the incentives were based on the plant getting LEED certification.] It represents the next generation of value-added agribusiness. Louisiana has been very good at producing agricultural commodities, but not at processing them."

GoTopeka, the public/private economic development organization for Topeka, Kan., and Shawnee County, offers incentives specifically for LEED points earned by new plants. Performance-based land incentives are offered for all plants acquiring at least 60 percent of the points needed for LEED silver certification, and land is free to plants gaining gold or platinum certification.

Topeka is pretty much dead-center of this country. GoTopeka is developing a green industrial area, Kanza Fire Commerce Park, on 1,000 acres near Interstates 335 and 470 — also adjacent to an airfield and rail lines. Mixed-use land is designed for manufacturing and distribution. It includes such green touches as rain gardens and other water conservation techniques, native plant landscaping, bioswales and pervious pavement, 130 acres of green space, energy-efficient lighting and power recycling techniques.

There's already one tenant building there. Mars Chocolate North America broke ground in August on its first U.S. manufacturing plant in 35 years. The 350,000-sq.-ft., $250 million project is pursuing LEED gold certification. It should be operational in 2013 and should employ 200.

"Our local manufacturing community has embraced green technologies and products over the past several years," says Doug Kinsinger, Chamber/Go Topeka president/CEO.

"Examples include Frito-Lay [whose] plant was the first existing food processing manufacturing facility to receive LEED gold designation. Innovia Films is the producer of Natureflex, an innovative, environmentally friendly packaging film. Add to that Kansas' interest in and Westar Energy's investment of over $1 billion in wind energy, and we think green technology is a natural growth industry for our community for many decades to come."

LEED-certified and other green plants are desired by economic development groups all over the country.

"More and more companies are building with that in mind, and it's great for a region to get such a plant," says Marcel Wagner, president/CEO of Allen Economic Development Group, which includes Allen County, Ohio, and the city of Lima. "They have less of an impact on our utilities – water, waste treatment, landfills, electricity – and they'll provide payback for their companies for years to come."

Allen County has created a food-focused manufacturing park, Gateway Commerce Park in Lima, which already includes soup-maker Kettle Creations. It's located along interstate highways and is especially well served by rail lines. One hundred acres already are dedicated to it, and 300 adjacent acres can be added. "And we're sitting on 30-40 billion gallons of excess water capacity," Wagner adds.

Nearby is a developing "green corridor" along Interstate 75, with one site optioned to a solar farm. And Wagner notes that a local construction company, Tuttle Construction/Touchstone CPM, has nine LEED-accredited professionals and has built more than 20 buildings to LEED standards.

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