Things Are Looking Up Downriver…

…and SBEDF is leading the charge
2 Guest

Illustrations by S.E. George

Meaghan McCormack is the CEO of the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation. Her efforts center on business retention, expansion, and attraction, strategic neighborhood development, workforce development and marketing the parish as a great place to live, work and play.

Seventeen years after most of St. Bernard Parish was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, I am thrilled to say we are thriving.

Due to the collaborative strategy of the St. Bernard Parish Planning Department, which later became the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation (SBEDF), the parish was able to secure $200,000 to help bring back its businesses and community. Since then, SBEDF has been able to leverage that initial $200,000 ten times over, to nearly $2 million for the people and businesses of St. Bernard Parish.

SBEDF invests its energy and resources into four key areas: business attraction, retention and expansion; neighborhood revitalization; small business assistance; and talent and workforce development.

Currently, St. Bernard Parish stands tall with over $1 billion invested in flood protection and stormwater drainage — both of which serve as safety nets proven effective during the most recent Katrina-level hurricane in 2021.

In 2018, just 4 years into SBEDF and SBPG’s Office of Community Development launching the “Sold on St. Bernard” program to create housing stock and bring residents home, the parish was named the sixth fastest growing small county/parish in the United States. Around the same time, Arabi was named by as the eighth fastest-growing suburb in the United States.

In the past few years, we have seen year-over-year increases in both residential (77%) and commercial (22%) construction permits issued, and the progress doesn’t stop there.

Despite two tornados touching down in Arabi within nine months of each other in 2022, the township continues to lead residential growth in the parish. The Meraux Foundation remains invested in the Arabi Arts District (which serves as the gateway into the parish), most recently with the opening of the St. Claude Arts Park this past October.

Our public schools continue to rank top in the state, with an over 95% high school graduation rate and over 90% of graduates earning at least six college credits while in high school. We’re home to the best educators in the state. Since 2020, two of our teachers have been named Louisiana’s Teacher of the Year (in 2020 and 2022) and one was named High School Teacher of the Year (2022).

Nunez Community College is also leading the way statewide when it comes to industry-aligned education. It’s home to the only program dedicated to aerospace manufacturing technicians in the state of Louisiana, and recently signed a letter of intent with Energy Innovation of Norway to develop a curriculum and training center for construction and maintenance of on and offshore wind turbines. To support the statewide rollout of broadband, Nunez was the first college in Southeast Louisiana to launch a training program for fiber optics technicians.

In Chalmette, we’re experiencing record-level expansions of leading parish employers, including Chalmette Refining, who worked with SBEDF to secure an industrial tax exemption (ITEP) and is in the process of retrofitting a formerly idle hydrocracking unit to form a new renewable diesel unit. The $600 million investment in St. Bernard Parish is a major step toward a greener future for our parish and state.

On the food manufacturing side, last year Domino Sugar completed a $4 million warehouse expansion at the St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District. Another may be in the pipeline for this year.

And further “down the road” as we say, in Violet, Louisiana, St. Bernard and the Port of New Orleans continue to make strides in developing what will be the world’s newest international container terminal — the Louisiana International Terminal (LIT). At full buildout, it will have a capacity of 1.2 million containers and is slated to create up to 4,500 new jobs.

Today, St. Bernard boasts a population climbing closer toward pre-Katrina levels, commercial and residential investment coming in at an unprecedented rate, and attractive developments throughout the community. We’re home to a state-of-the-art hospital, a burgeoning film industry, and a soon-to-be redeveloped former Ford Manufacturing Plant.

Both the St. Bernard Port and St. Bernard Parish Government have budgeted millions for investment in infrastructure that will help sustain our rapid growth.

We’ve come a long way since 2005. We’ve been certified as a “Development Ready Community” by Louisiana Economic Development and are accessing our boundless potential. According to the 2020 census, St. Bernard was rated the fastest-growing parish in Louisiana by population and had the second highest per-capita GDP in the state.

St. Bernard Parish is a not-so-hidden gem, and we remain bullish on all that’s happening “down the road.” We continue to seize opportunity and make sure things stay booming downriver.