City to split economic development responsibilities moving forward

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker said the city would be utilizing a different economic development model moving forward.

by Malcolm Butler

The Economic Development Director position for the City of Ruston has been a revolving door in recent history.

So following the departure of Jade West who was the most recent person to hold that title, Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker has opted to take a little different approach to filling those responsibilities moving forward.

Walker said Wednesday afternoon the City will now utilize the North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP) to handle industrial and large retail. Meanwhile all restaurant, hotel and small retail businesses will be handled by Laurel Nerren, who will serve as the City’s Communication Director starting August 1.

NLEP — a 501(c)3 — already provides professional economic development services to a 14-parish region of North Louisiana. Although Lincoln Parish is among the 14 parishes already, Walker said their role would increase with this new model.

“I thought why should we go out and find someone when NLEP is doing it already,” he said. “They have a staff to do it. They are incredible at what they do. They know all the incentives. They know all of that stuff. We just won’t have someone sitting here in the office, but we will have someone assigned by NLEP that will work directly with us on these types of economic development projects.”

The state of Louisiana is divided into eight different regions as divided by Governor John Bel Edwards’ economic development arm with each one of them being handled by a Regional Economic Development Organization.

“I just think it’s a much smoother and much more economically efficient model for us,” said Walker about the new model. “Plus, I look at the fact that we just haven’t been able to keep anyone (in that position) very long.”

According to Walker, NLEP recently announced 600 new jobs in Shreveport.

“NLEP did all of that,” said Walker. “They got the lead and they fulfilled it. We already pay them some anyway because we are in that district, but we are going to increase what we pay them and they will handle all industrial customers. They will handle all of our industrial and large retail such as Buc-ee’s.

“When we hire somebody (for the Economic Development Director position) they are paid for by the citizens of Ruston so they should only work for the citizens of Ruston. But we haven’t really done that. We have covered the entire parish. NLEP already covers the entire parish so it’s just a no-brainer. We probably should have done this year’s go.”

The City currently pays NLEP $12,000 per year, but that will increase with the new model. Walker said he wasn’t ready to say the exact number until it has been approved by the Ruston City Council.

Nerren will begin her new role with the City of August 1. Walker said she would be in charge of communications and social media for the city while also serving as the point of contact for smaller retail development.

Most recently, Nerren has worked for State Representative Julia Letlow as a communications specialist within the state.

“Every week (Laurel) will have a list of all the restaurants that are trying to come to Ruston,” said Walker.  “She is going to call every one of them ever week and say, ‘Hey. I just want to check and see if you need anything.’ If they need something they will call her. If she can’t provide it, she will come to me to get direction. I think it will be a really good combination for us.”

Walker did say that the new model would be a total savings for the City’s budget since the salary and benefits of the former economic development director position is factored into the equation.