New & Notables
The following 13 professionals are daring to try something new — developing a business, taking on a new role, or taking things to the next level. We honor their efforts as Biz New Orleans’ 2018…
Vice Chancellor for Workforce Development and Institutional Advancement, Delgado Community College
When it comes to workforce development in Southeast Louisiana, Delgado Community College is leading the way, and leading Delgado’s efforts as of last December is Arlanda Williams.
A Terrebonne Parish native who’s served on the parish’s council for three terms, Williams has always been a proponent of the importance of workforce development, and recently served on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ transition team for the Department of Economic Development.
This new role at Delgado includes overseeing the school's Maritime and Industrial Training Facility, the Workforce Center of Excellence and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. In each of these areas there is excitement and big plans.
“At the Maritime Center we are working on being recognized as a federal center for excellence, which also means federal contracts,” she says, adding that the Goldman Sachs program is currently in its fifth year and its most recent class, at 33 participants, is its largest to date.
Next month, Delgado will also open the Advanced Manufacturing Center for Excellence in Avondale, a 10.5-acre, $27 million facility in the Churchill Technology and Business Park that offers training in welding, precision machining, electrical/electronics engineering technology, electronics service technology and industrial maintenance.
“My push and my passion is for Delgado to continue to have a regional impact,” Williams says. “Community and technical colleges are growing by leaps and bounds and we are placing people in the workforce in good-paying jobs. We are helping people realize that the American dream is not as out of reach as they may think.”
CEO, Watch Systems
Ben Luzynski’s job is to protect children, and he says he couldn’t be happier about it.
In November 2017, Luzynski was promoted from executive vice president to CEO of Watch Systems, a Covington-based company whose premier product is OffenderWatch, the largest sex-offender-registry system in the United States.
“We work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and currently have a presence in 37 states,” he says, adding that the company pioneered the notification system that emails residents if a registered sex offender has moved into their neighborhood.
This past March, the company announced its first international partnership: OffenderWatch was awarded the contract to assist the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in modernizing its database.
“[Canada] has new legislation that requires their sex offender app to be able to be accessed by the public, who can use it to sign up for email alerts, so we’re rebuilding their app,” he says.
Later this year, OffenderWatch also plans to release a new software program called Safe Virtual Neighborhood, aimed at protecting youth from online sexual predators.
“The app can be installed on a child’s phone," he says, "and if a registered sex offender tries to contact them via email, phone, text or Snapchat, or if they are hanging out near a registered offender's house, they will receive a notification on their phone, and so will their parents.”
Vice President of Investment Advisors, Stirling Properties
Hammond native Beezie Landry joined the full-service commercial real estate company Stirling Properties right out of college more than 17 years ago as a real estate agent working mostly with retail properties.
“During that time I had worked off and on with a handful of investment sales and found that I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I got my degree in accounting so I really like working with numbers and figuring out ways to make them work.”
In 2014, Landry decided to make the leap and devote himself almost solely to investment work. He has since been responsible for the acquisition and disposition of nearly $500 million of investment assets in Louisiana and Mississippi, primarily in single and multi-tenant retail and medical offices.
This past May, following the retirement of one of the company’s owners, Jeff Marshal, who headed up acquisitions, Stirling Properties announced that it was forming an Investment Advisors Division that encompasses acquisition, disposition and investment sales. Landry was chosen to lead the division, which he says is currently “in full swing.”
“This new division is more focused and specialized,” he says, “something we haven’t had before. It's a more team-oriented approach that offers something we feel competes with the national companies. These are markets we know and our team has so much knowledge across so many property types and markets across the Gulf South that I think it will be hard to compete with what we’re doing.”
In a city that struggles with a lack of affordable housing, local architectural and urban design firm, the Office of Jonathan Tate (OJT), has stepped beyond its typical role to offer up something completely new.
Together with developer Chuck Rutledge and contractor Pierre Stouse, Jonathan Tate finished construction this past winter on 12 homes in the Irish Channel priced starting at $288,000 — less than half the average home cost in this high-demand historic neighborhood.
The project is called St. Thomas/Ninth and it’s the result of an innovative approach that utilizes out-of-the-box thinking on land purchasing mixed with contemporary design strategies to create more attainably priced homes.
After success building on small lots that Tate describes as less like your typical home plot and more “like someone’s yard,” a plot of land was identified near Tchoupitoulas Street, one block from the Mississippi River, that encompassed vacant land and half an existing warehouse.
On that 12,800 square feet, OJT designed 10 single-family homes and one two-family home with the idea of building up, not out. Homes range from two to three stories and 919 square feet to up to 1,561 square feet with two or three bedrooms.
“We’ve invested in quality materials, like lifetime warrantied high-impact windows and a metal skin that comes with a 20-year-warranty,” Tate says, explaining that the idea is to make not just homebuying easier on first-time buyers, but home owning as well.
The project has so far gained favor with the Louisiana Landmarks Society, who honored it with a 2018 award for Excellence in Historic Preservation for New Construction/Design, as well as with homebuyers — half the homes have already sold.
“I think we’ve exercised the ideas we were trying to exercise,” says Tate, who is now working on a project with a nonprofit homeownership organization, along with one in Louisville, Kentucky. “We definitely had no desire to be developers, but we needed to be for this.”
Project Management Administrator, LADOTD
With a new airport comes a lot of excitement and economic opportunity, but increased travel and tourism also mean increased traffic demands.
To serve these demands, the LADOTD is working on a new flyover for the Interstate10/Loyola Drive interchange to replace the current flyover on Williams Boulevard.
“Congestion currently exists on Loyola Drive at its interchange with I-10 and at its intersection with Veterans Boulevard and is expected to worsen with future traffic from the airport's new North Terminal,” explains Timothy Nickel, LADOTD’s project manager.
A New Orleans native, Nickel is a registered professional engineer with 20 years’ experience in design build, innovative design, expedited projects and projects with environmental sensitivities such as the I-49 Lafayette Connector ($1.2 billion) and elevated LA 1 project in Leeville ($350 million). The Loyola Drive project will bring all of Nickel’s experience into play, plus it is likely to consist of complex ramp structures and roadways while maintaining traffic and minimizing impacts of day-to-day activities in the area.
Many of these large jobs entail working closely with other organizations in a team effort to deliver a project beneficial to all involved. For example, the Loyola interchange includes the airport, both the cities of Kenner and New Orleans, along with Jefferson Parish and the Regional Planning Commission.
“We’re currently in design build procurement and we’re expecting to receive environmental clearance by the end of 2018,” says Nickel, “with construction to begin in the summer/fall of 2019. Depending on the proposed design, we are hoping to finish construction in three years, with costs estimated to be up to $125 million.”
CEO, St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce
In September 2017, Kenner native Cathy Alfonso was named the new CEO of the St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce.
Alfonso’s background is in public relations, including work at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit Baton Rouge, and she served for a year as the admissions director at her alma mater, Archbishop Chapelle High School.
“My passion is anything involving student or community involvement,” says Alfonso, “so this job is just an incredible chance to do something I really love in the community in which I live.”
Alfonso says St. Bernard Parish has seen a huge increase in new construction lately, noting that this year the parish is projecting to see triple the amount of home permits as in 2017.
“We have safe schools, low crime and great streets,” she says, “so naturally people are moving here and more people means we’re better positioned for more business.”
Alfonso says the chamber is heavily focused on programming and professional development — including programs like Grow St. Bernard (now in its second year) and Leadership St. Bernard.
“One of the biggest things we’re working on right now is creating a 100-day action plan as part of our strategic plan,” she says. “Our goals are to grow our membership — most of which are small businesses — grow our events and really focus on our community presence. We want people to know us as a resource and be a visible force in the parish.”
John Nickens IV
President and CEO, Children’s Hospital New Orleans
“I’ve visited the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country and I can tell you that what we’re creating here right now is going to match that level of excellence,” says John Nickens IV.
This past September, Nickens became the new president and CEO of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, just as the hospital is undergoing a $300 million multiphase renovation.
Nickens has not only visited the top 10 children’s hospitals, he most recently served as senior vice president at one — Texas Children’s Hospital, ranked No. 4 nationally by the latest U.S. News & World Report honors. He says he was drawn to New Orleans by the tremendous possibilities he sees here.
“There is no place in the country where a children’s hospital has created it’s own system,” he says. “The idea is to switch from just healing the sick to creating a total environment of health.”
Expected to reach completion in December 2020, the hospital’s renovations include a long list of new care centers — from cardiac to behavioral health — expanding the footprint from 394,500 square feet to 629,500. Nickens, however, says he’s most excited about the opportunity for parents to stay with their children while they are admitted, noting that almost all rooms will be private with places for parents to stay and participate in their child’s care.
“This isn’t about just adding more beds,” says Nickens. “It’s about providing patient-centric care in a family environment with state-of-the-art technology.
It’s about practicing medicine in the way it’s going to look, in say, 2035.”
Werlien Prosperie III
CEO, Gas Pump TV
Chances are you’ve been standing at a gas pump filling up when suddenly a screen on the pump popped to life, offering you local news, weather, sports or entertainment to amuse you while you wait.
This is Gas Pump TV (GPTV) — the creation of Houma native Werlien Prosperie III.
Back in 2010, while a sophomore at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Prosperie had already tried, and failed, to break into the billboard business. It was only then, while pumping gas one day, that he had the idea for a way to reach consumers in a new way.
“Out of my failure, I found success,” says Prosperie, whose product is present at the pumps of most designated market areas in the United States. Now, thanks to a deal announced in April, GPTV is positioned to become the second-largest media company from Louisiana next to Lamar.
In January, Prosperie signed a long-term partnership with Bennett Pump Co. One of the largest fuel dispenser companies in the world, Bennett products are found in more than 85 countries.
Together, the companies are launching a program aimed at helping gas stations recoup some of the costs of new fuel dispensers required to comply with updated credit card authentication standards estimated to cost U.S. retailers between $5 billion and $7 billion by October 2020.
“Fuel dispensers that offer GPTV come with a financial incentive for retailers while also providing them with an opportunity to showcase their own store promotions,” says Prosperie. “We can help reach that age-18-to-48 consumer that is active, on the go and participating in the economy. Plus you’re providing customers with the ultimate fueling experience.”
Louisiana Market Manager, Lyft
It was only three years ago in April that the New Orleans City Council voted to allow ride-sharing companies into the city, and only a little over a year ago that Lyft joined Uber in the marketplace.
“We’ve only had a dedicated team on the ground since January of this year,” says Jessica Inman, Lyft’s market manager for Louisiana, who currently leads a team of five and growing.
The New Orleans native is tasked with the goal of overtaking Uber.
“Our goal is to gain 51 percent of the market share and we’re definitely getting there,” says Inman.
While she wouldn’t share the company’s current market share in Louisiana, in May an article in USA Today reported that, “some 48 million people will ride Uber this year in the United States, which is up 18 percent over 2017’s 40.7 million but lower than eMarketer’s original projection of 51.4 million. Rival Lyft will serve 29.9 million riders in 2018. That’s a 41 percent jump over 2017.”
Inman says the company’s strategy is to build up its local base in the region, in part by providing “a great experience for big events, which we know results in a bump in our market share.”
She has also been focused on creating local partnerships: Lyft is currently the official athletic sponsor for Louisiana State University, offers rides to participants of the Youth Empowerment Project and has partnered with the Urban League of Louisiana to help recruit and train drivers.
“It’s still difficult because Louisiana is one of the few states in the country where regulations vary from parish to parish, but we’re working on that,” she says. “It’s important to provide this kind of opportunity to people.”
Director, DXC Technology New Orleans Digital Transformation Center
Hailed as a “game changer” by state leaders as the largest tech project ever to come to Louisiana, DXC Technology’s announcement that it was heading to New Orleans topped headlines last November, and the project was recently named one of the Top 20 Economic Development Deals in North America for 2017 by Site Selection Magazine.
The company’s new Digital Transformation Center — opened May 23 at the Freeport McMoRan building on Poydras Street — is expected to create 2,000 tech jobs within the next six years. The global company currently works in approximately 70 countries helping public and private sector clients use digital solutions to solve their problems.
The man tasked with running the New Orleans center is Atlanta native Terrell Boynton, who started his tech career working with Hewlett-Packard after college in the company’s automation development department.
Boynton says he’s excited for the move because he sees tremendous opportunity in New Orleans.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of talent being produced here that is leaving New Orleans because of a lack of tech opportunity,” he says. “Our goal is to capture that talent base locally, engage the higher education programs and help draw other tech companies to the area.”
Yes, DXC is actually eager for competition.
“If there are not enough companies in an industry you will soon see a decline of talent,” he explains. “That’s why we’re working with organizations like LED Fast Start and the economic business development teams. DXC is going to be just the beginning.”
President and CEO, Republic National Distributing Company
The biggest news to hit the national wine and spirits industry over the past year happened last November with the announcement that Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) is merging with Breakthru Beverage.
The two companies currently hold the titles of second- and third-largest wine distributors (respectively), with RNDC posting $6.5 billion in annual revenues, followed closely by Breakthru at nearly $6 billion. Together they are estimated to hold nearly a 60 percent market share with the new company, the name of which has yet to be announced.
It has been announced, however, that RNDC president and CEO, Tom Cole, who has led the 9,500-employee company since its 2006 inception, will serve as the CEO of this new venture. An Ohio native, Cole has called New Orleans home for 28 years. The company operates in Louisiana out of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
“The beverage industry is consolidating and as we looked at opportunities to continue to grow — we’re in 23 states now plus the District of Columbia — Breakthru was a good fit," he says. "It’s a solid, family-run company, like us, that shares our values.”
The merger is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year but work has already begun to create a company Cole says will be “different, sustainable and transformative.
“You’re only new once,” he says, “so we’re going to make the most of it. We’re good now, but the goal is to be the best.”
Founder and CEO, Deep South Studios
Confidence in Louisiana’s film industry is coming back, and Scott Niemeyer, founder and CEO of Algiers’ Deep South Studios, is enthusiastic about praising the state’s efforts to proclaim to all that Hollywood South is here to stay.
“Thanks to the state’s new entertainment incentive program which Gov. Edwards signed into law last year, we have an even stronger ecosystem that supports and recognizes the importance of the entertainment industry to this state,” says Niemeyer.
In 2012, Niemeyer — a producer of films including the hit, “Pitch Perfect,” — began working on creating the largest independent film and television full-service facility ever constructed in the Southeast. Deep South Studios has currently completed three of the 11 buildings planned for Phase 1 of the project, totaling 35,000 square feet. Current plans include approximately 262,000 square feet of studio space.
The company has had a string of successes recently, including being chosen late last year as the state’s first Qualified Entertainment Company (QEC). Under a new state program, entertainment employers qualified by Louisiana Economic Development can receive tax credits on annual wages paid on full-time jobs created for Louisiana residents. QECs may qualify for up to $1 million in payroll credits per year.
Then in April, Deep South welcomed its first tenant, Production Resource Group, a global entertainment and live event production services company.
“I’m eager to see Louisiana back at its maximum potential in this industry,” says Niemeyer, “and we’re well on our way to getting there.”
Founder and Owner, Checkerbox
Three years ago, a senior at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie named Randy Gervais — whose family owns the audio/visual company Royal Productions — went looking for his own business idea. What he came up with was socks.
“I was looking for something everyone needs,” he says, “something that is relatively inexpensive to make but has a high profit margin. So I thought, ‘Why not socks?’”
Gervais focused specifically on men’s dress socks.
“I looked at what was out there and I saw a lot of stripes, polka dots and argyle, so I thought I’d do something different — a checkerbox print.”
In August 2015, Checkerbox was born. Just a few months into launching, Gervais sold $30,000 worth of socks in just two weeks.
“I told my mom and dad, ‘I think this thing is going to work!’” he says.
Now just 22 years old, Gervais runs a strictly online business that offers “socks that stay up all day” crafted from 100 percent combed cotton or a cashmere blend in more than 50 different patterns, as well as ties and pocket squares. Along with checkerbox prints in every color, he offers fun prints like coffee cups, camouflage and even pink flamingos.
One of his most in-demand socks, however, came about as a result of a request from Louisiana’s Lt. Gov., Billy Nungesser.
“He called me and asked if I could make a state sock that he could wear at the capitol, so I took the state seal and put it on a blue sock," he says. "They sell out as fast as I release them.”