Northeast Louisiana Universities: a Source of Pride!

Keeny Hall
Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA ranked No. 272 in National Universities, No. 135 in Top Public Schools and No. 335 in Top Performers on Social Mobility.

Northeast Louisiana is blessed with great higher education institutions! Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) both rank as National Universities, according the U.S. News & World Reports Best Colleges Rankings. The two Northeast Louisiana universities are among only seven Louisiana four-year institutions to make it on the 2020 list of top U.S. colleges and universities. Grambling State University (GSU) was named a top Regional University in the South.

The magazine’s annual ranking of the best colleges and universities evaluates 1,400 schools, based on 15 measures of academic quality, including average ACT/SAT scores of admitted students, student-faculty ratios and graduation rates. In America, the U.S. News & World Report rankings are regarded as the gold standard.

ULM Library sunset
University of Louisiana Monroe in Monroe, LA ranked No. 292-381 in National Universities, No. 147 in Top Performers on Social Mobility and No. 380 in Business Programs.

National Universities offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master’s and doctoral programs, and emphasize faculty research or award professional practice doctorates. In addition to ranking as National Universities, Louisiana Tech also scored high as a Top Public School, and ULM scored high in Business Programs. Both universities were named Top Performers on Social Mobility. Both ULM and Louisiana Tech were more successful than other schools at advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded with Pell Grants.

Regional Universities offer a full range of undergraduate programs, some master’s programs and a few doctoral programs. In addition to being named a top Regional University in the South, GSU ranks No. 49 in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities category and No. 28 as a Top Performer on Social Mobility. For the full report, visit

Grambling State University in Grambling, LA ranked No. 92 to 122 in Regional Universities South, No. 28 in Top Performers on Social Mobility, and No. 49 in HBCU.

Northeast Louisiana institutions have steadily climbed the college rankings over the years. This positive momentum indicates continual improvement in the quality of higher education in Louisiana. Few regions in Louisiana can tout so many high-caliber institutions of learning, which have a huge economic impact on Northeast Louisiana. Universities attract talent and dollars from tuition, wages and student and faculty spending. In its 2018 economic impact study, the University of Louisiana (UL) System, which oversees nine UL universities, including Louisiana Tech, ULM and GSU, estimates that their schools contributed $10.9 billion to the state’s economy. The UL system study reports that GSU generates $264 million, Louisiana Tech generated $462 million, and ULM produces $350 million in regional economic impact.

Soon, Northeast Louisiana will see another feather in its cap, as the widely anticipated Edward Via School of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) is set to open its doors as early as the fall of 2020. The anticipated medical school is estimated to generate $60-$77 million a year in economic impact.

CenturyLink Commits to Keeping its HQ in Monroe.

CenturyLink CEO Jeff Storey  and Gov. John Bel Edwards today (4/2/19) announced an agreement to retain CenturyLink’s corporate headquarters in Monroe, LA through 2025. The Monroe corporate campus will remain the Fortune 200 company’s hub of operations. Serving customers in more than 60 countries, CenturyLink is a leading global technology company with annual revenue of more than $23 billion.

“CenturyLink is pleased to reaffirm our commitment to Louisiana,” said Storey. “As we continue to evolve into a leading global technology company, our talented employees in Northeast Louisiana will continue to play important roles in our transformation. A highly trained workforce is key to our continued success.”

The agreement represents the third corporate headquarters retention agreement in the past decade between the State of Louisiana and CenturyLink, and continues a higher education investment in Louisiana Tech University, University of Louisiana at Monroe, Grambling State University and other higher education campuses to provide technology curricula for CenturyLink employees and other students.

CenturyLink anchors North Louisiana’s Interstate 20 Technology Corridor that also includes IBM in Monroe, universities and colleges in North Louisiana, along with Barksdale Air Force Base’s Global Strike Command, the National Cyber Research Park, the Cyber Innovation Center and General Dynamics Information Technology in the Shreveport-Bossier City metro to the west.

“CenturyLink’s rise to prominence as one of the world’s most successful technology firms tells a uniquely Louisiana story,” said Gov. Edwards. “We prize CenturyLink’s contributions to our way of life in Louisiana, to the thousands of families the company has supported for generations, and to the new generation of technology professionals in Northeast Louisiana who will proudly carry the company’s banner into the future. Signing this headquarters retention agreement ensures that CenturyLink’s presence in Louisiana will continue to drive our tech sector along the I-20 Cyber Corridor and throughout our state.”

To secure the latest corporate retention project, the State of Louisiana offered CenturyLink a competitive incentive package that includes an annual performance-based grant, subject to company payroll performance. In addition, the agreement creates funding for information technology faculty, curricula and education at Louisiana Tech University, where CenturyLink and the state have supported the Clarke M. Williams Professorship in Telecommunications in honor of the company’s founder. The agreement funds up to $2 million in education grants to Louisiana Tech University and other eligible universities, such as the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Grambling State University, for enhancing IT and STEM-related higher education programs in the region.

One of the leading economic driver firms in Northeast Louisiana’s private sector, CenturyLink represents a key contributor to the region’s and state’s growing software and IT economy. Leveraging an attractive business climate, higher education partnerships and strategic technology incentives, the IT sector in Louisiana is one of the fastest growing job sectors.  In addition to CenturyLink, those employers include EA, GE Digital, IBM, General Dynamics Information Technology, CGI, DXC Technology, Accruent and more.

About CenturyLink

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) is the second-largest U.S. communications provider to global enterprise customers. With customers in more than 60 countries and an intense focus on the customer experience, CenturyLink strives to be the world’s best networking company by solving customers’ increased demand for reliable and secure connections. The company also serves as its customers’ trusted partner, helping them manage increased network and IT complexity and providing managed network and cybersecurity solutions that help protect their business. For more information, visit

Year of the River


2019 represents the “Year of the River”: a Bicentennial Celebration of the Ouachita River Valley. This celebration underscores the significance of the River from the founding of Monroe in the late 1700s to all its present day activities. The 510 mile waterway serves as the cultural and economic lifeblood for communities from Arkansas to Louisiana. Based on an economic impact study conducted by the University of Louisiana at Monroe and funded by the North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP), the Ouachita River produces nearly $5.7 billion dollars annually in total economic impact.  The River greatly benefits our manufacturers, from paper mills to chemical plants, generating $5.5 billion from industrial activities.  Both industrial and commercial activities on the River create 21,000 full-time jobs.

Additionally, communities use the Ouachita River for their drinking water and/or discharge their waste water into the river.  Some manufacturers pull water straight from the River for their industrial processes.  Besides the economic and environmental benefits, the Ouachita River offers cultural and recreational opportunities.  We can boat, fish, waterski, wakeboard or just simply relax on the River.  So many of our festivals and events happen along this scenic waterway. The Ouachita River been ranked in the top 10 most beautiful rivers in America by National Geographic Magazine.

The Ouachita River’s historic, cultural, recreational and economic significance cannot be taken for granted. That’s why the Year of the River Bicentennial Celebration will highlight the Ouachita River’s past, present and future through a year-long series of celebrations/explorations throughout the Ouachita River Valley from Jonesville, Louisiana to Camden, Arkansas. These community celebrations will demonstrate the economic and cultural impact of the River and hopefully increase awareness and appreciation of the River’s role in the growth and prosperity of these communities. 

Schedule of Year of the River Celebrations:

“Paint the River” is a traveling art exhibit, sponsored by the Arts Council of Northeast Louisiana, to showcase the beauty of the Ouachita River.  The art collection will be displayed at the following locations:

  • Feb. 1- March 16: Schepis Museum
  • March 29- May 10: Jackson Parish Library
  • May 24- July 5: Sterlington Library
  • July 19-August 30: Monroe Regional Airport
  • Sept.13 – Oct. 25: West Carroll Library
  • Nov. 8- Dec. 20: Closing reception TBA

Origin Bank Downtown RiverMarket Events:

Louisiana Food and Music Festival featuring Craft Beverage Walkla food and music festival logo2

March 16th, 2019
10 AM-4PM
Origin Bank RiverMarket
Learn More>>>

Rita’s on the River
April 6, 2019
10 AM-4 PM
Origin Bank RiverMarket
Learn More>>>

Biedenharn Gardens & Bible Museum

Noah and his Ark in Art
Classic Coke Dinner
Rocking Coke Dinner
More information coming!

Learn more about Year of the Year Events or to host an event.


Public Art: Enhancing Northeast Louisiana’s Quality of Life

Public art enriches and beautifies a community. Vibrant murals, whimsical statues and fantastical sculptures improve our quality of life through their ability to enhance an environment, ignite our imaginations, remind us of our history and inspire our future. Public art benefits the community through placemaking, bringing people together, and can be used as a tool in economic development.


“So We May Live into Yours” Mural designed by Emily Jane Cruz and Ali Hijazi

City of Monroe: Murals Abound
Public art manifests throughout Northeast Louisiana beginning with a visitor’s first impression when arriving at the Monroe Regional Airport. As one of three public murals completed in Monroe this summer, “So We May Live into Yours” includes an abstract Monroe skyline integrated with technology. This vinyl installation on the window of the airport terminal represents the history and the future of the city.

“Songs from the Silver Waters” Mural designed by Drék Davis and Vitus Shell

The next mural, installed at the Monroe Civic Center, is entitled “Songs from the Silver Waters.” The mural acknowledges the broad history of Ouachita Parish while highlighting the purpose and function of the Monroe Civic Center. The final mural, installed at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, is a colorful and abstract rendering of running horses. In popular culture, a stampede symbolizes a display of magnificence and power.

stampede raluca
Mural entitled “Stampede” designed by Raluca Iancu

The Masur Museum of Art in Monroe received a grant from the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau to create these three public murals. Additionally, the museum was awarded a grant from the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council to commission area artists to create designs for a bus wrap, creating movable public art displays. Working with two Monroe Transit buses, artists designed one side of the buses with a focus on the essence of Monroe, the local landscape and our history.  These works of art are now making their rounds about town, adding beauty to an everyday part of life in our city.

Bulldogs, Fish and Herons: Oh MY!

Photo - Rachel Shirley

Memphis has Tigers, New Orleans has Bead Dogs, and Slidell has Pelicans. Now, Ruston has BuIldogs, Farmerville has Fish, and soon Monroe-West Monroe will have Herons.

Ruston launched a community-wide public arts project, dubbed the Bulldog Project, following the immense success of its painted murals. Spearheaded by the Ruston Cultural District, this public arts project created ten fiberglass Bulldog statues designed by local artists. The Bulldogs are placed at various locations throughout the City of Ruston, allowing artists to showcase their work publicly. After two years, seven of the 10 Bulldogs will be auctioned off and moved to permanent locations determined by the winning bidders.

Photo- Candace DoriaPublic response to the Bulldogs proved overwhelmingly positive, with hundreds of photos of the statues shared on social media. A thousand Bulldog location maps have been given out since the “unleashing,” so people can discover all ten Bulldogs, which has quickly become a must-do activity in Ruston.

Bulldog statues can be found at the following locations: Cook Park, Ruston Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visitors Center), Louisiana Tech University, Lambright Sports and Wellness Center, Boys and Girls Club NCLA, Ruston Farmers Market, The Dixie Center for the Arts, Bank of Ruston, Railroad Park, and City Hall.

Farmerville: Fishing Fantasy

Public art project, with Jamie Anderson 2Farmerville’s flight of fancy, entitled a “Fishing Fantasy,” embodies the beauty of Lake D’Arbonne, while highlighting a popular activity on the lake. This sparkling glass tile-covered sculpture will soon make its public appearance on the lawn of the Union Parish Courthouse in Farmerville. The seven-foot tall art piece, designed and executed by mosaic artist Jamie Anderson, will be Farmerville’s first permanent free-standing art installation.

The work was commissioned by the Union Parish Museum of History and Art as a gift to the community. The project was supported by 55 donors who purchased commemorative bricks and by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts as administered through the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council. Public unveiling of the sculpture will take place during December.

Monroe-West Monroe: Herons on the Bayou

herons on bayouHerons embody our community’s love of nature and the great outdoors. Appropriately, the next public arts project on the horizon is “Herons on the Bayou.” This project allows local artists to paint seven-foot tall, fiberglass and metal heron sculptures, sponsored by area businesses. For a $2,500 donation, a unique heron will be created for the business to install at their establishment or at a public location. More than 30 herons will be placed throughout Ouachita Parish. This massive undertaking is supported by the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and led by Brooke Foy, whose organization, ARROW Public Art, also organized the volunteer effort, “One Mile of Love” to paint the seawall in West Monroe. Visit to become a sponsor.

These latest examples of creativity and imagination add to our growing outdoor gallery of public art. Other prominent works of public art include the Coca Cola murals in Monroe and West Monroe, the Great Blue Heron at Restoration Park in West Monroe, the Maypop in downtown Monroe and the Trenton Flowers on Antique Alley.

To keep the creativity flowing, the City of West Monroe is calling for artists to submit 2-D visual works of art to be displayed at City Hall. The submission should center around the theme, “Year of the River” in honor of the Ouachita River. To learn more about submitting artwork, call the City of West Monroe Mayor’s Office at (318) 396-2600 or email

Northeast Louisiana: Green Initiatives Boost Quality of Place

Going green is important not just for the environment but for the economy as well. Efforts to recycle and to improve the aesthetics of our region matter in economic development.  Clean, attractive cities tell visitors that Northeast Louisiana has pride in place.

The City of West Monroe recently opened a new recycling center at 409 Lincoln Street in West Monroe. In its first five days, the recycling center collected than 10,000 pounds of recyclables, including plastics #1 (bottles); plastic #2 (milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, etc.), paper, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans. The center is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7am to 3pm and on select Saturdays to meet the growing demand for sustainability.

The City of Ruston began a popular curb-side, residential recycling program last year.  The single-stream recycling program offers a convenient way for customers to recycle, allowing for more recyclable items in their blue recycling cans for curbside pickup. The program has enhanced neighborhood beautification and increased recycling within the City of Ruston.

In Monroe,  America Recycles Day will take place November 10th at the Monroe Civic Center. This highly successful event gathers thousand of pounds of recyclables every year. Everything from electronics to tires are collected as thousands of vehicles drop off items that otherwise would go to the landfill.

Both Monroe and West Monroe are launching beautification projects that will offer a more cheerful welcome to visitors.  One such project will enhance the U.S. 165 entrance to the University of Louisiana at Monroe with new flower beds and landscaping.  This project will cost $30,000, of which $12,000 has been raised so far.

Another landscape project will transform the green space at the Stella/Mill intersection in West Monroe, which serves as the gateway to the community’s downtown area. The new landscaping will cost $10,000 – of which half has been raised so far.  These beautification projects and recycling initiatives enhance Northeast Louisiana’s quality of life.


The Monroe-West Monroe MSA Ranks as the Most Affordable Place to Live in Louisiana!

monroe skyline daytime

The Cost of Living Index for the second quarter of 2018 ranks Monroe as the most affordable place to live in the state. The Monroe Metro cost of living is 88.1 percent of the national average, according to the report published by the Council for Community and Economic Research.

“Our low cost of living means families and employers get more value for their dollar,” said Scott Martinez, CEcD, President of North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP). “Families can afford a better standard of living, and companies can better recruit the talent they need.”

The Cost of Living Index estimates the amount of money needed to sustain a certain level of living, including basic expenses such as housing, food, health care, etc. It is based on more than 90,000 prices covering 60 different items collected from 259 participating communities during the second quarter of 2018. The Cost of Living Index measures regional cost differences in consumer goods and services. It’s often used when comparing how expensive it is to live in one city versus another.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe Center for Business and Economic Research gathers the data for the Monroe MSA.  The information is compiled into a composite index, which is based on six weighted categories – grocery items (13.47%), housing (28.15%), utilities (9.90%), transportation (8.99%), health care (4.57%) and miscellaneous goods and services (34.92%).

The Monroe MSA includes all of Ouachita and Union Parishes. For Monroe, the two most affordable cost categories are health care at 80.7 percent and transportation at 81.9 percent of the national average. The next lowest cost categories are utilities (84.9%); housing (87.3%); miscellaneous goods and services (89.2); and grocery (96.2).

To see how North Louisiana’s cost of living compares with other communities around the nation, NLEP offers a Cost of Living calculator on our website,  Go to the Regional Data Center and click Cost of Living.  The calculator allows you to determine the level of income you would need to move to Monroe from another community and maintain your current standard of living based on the Cost of Living Index.  The following chart shows how North Louisiana compares with other Louisiana communities.

coli 2018 q2



STEM tour
Monroe City School STEM students toured CenturyLink and received a demonstration and overview of the new technologies being developed in the Monroe-based company. They also heard from IT professionals about a STEM education and career paths.

By: Christine Rambo, CEcD, NLEP and Tim Mcilveene, CenturyLink

Building an educated, highly trained STEM workforce is key to North Louisiana’s economic future. This is true across nearly all industry sectors, both locally and nationally.  In our region, advanced manufacturing, health care, agribusiness and IT are all dependent on employees with broad STEM knowledge and know-how.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported STEM jobs were expected to grow 17 percent from 2008 to 2018. However, labor reports also show a crippling shortage of STEM talent — as high as a 1.4 million talent gap for software development jobs projected in 2020. A study by the New American Economy Research Foundation shows the ratio of available STEM jobs versus qualified applicants runs between 45 and 88 STEM openings posted online for every one unemployed, qualified worker.  In Louisiana, we have 12.4 job openings for every one unemployed, qualified STEM worker. This STEM talent gap will soon limit our economic growth both locally, regionally, and nationally.

Stem ratios Capture
Source: Sizing Up the Gap in our Supply of STEM Workers Report, 2017

It’s incumbent on private companies to get involved with education — both at the K-12 and the higher education level —  to make sure schools are producing graduates who have the correct skill sets to be successful. This symbiotic relationship is win/win/win for all — for the school districts, for industry and most importantly for the students.

CenturyLink is actively working with and encouraging local K-12 school systems throughout North Louisiana to adopt a holistic STEM curriculum. In 2017, Monroe City Schools adopted CenturyLink’s STEM Academy model by implementing the Cyber Innovation Center’s STEM curriculum. The STEM Academies will prepare students for their next steps and will build a talent pipeline not only for CenturyLink but for other employers as well. This curriculum is funded with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security and is considered the national STEM curriculum.

While this curriculum is taught across the country, Monroe City Schools are only the second school district in the State of Louisiana to implement the comprehensive program districtwide.  The school system’s three high schools, Carroll, Neville and Wossman, launched STEM Academies last fall. The STEM programs allow students to take cutting-edge classes, setting them on a path for a brighter future. STEM workers command higher wages, earning 29 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

During the first year of the roll-out, approximately 80 students enrolled in Monroe City School’s STEM Academies, thanks in part to the efforts of CenturyLink employees like Ron Lewis, Director of Innovation, Testing and Integration. He and his coworkers have led high school tours at CenturyLink’s corporate headquarters in Monroe and visited local classes to discuss the benefits of a STEM education.


“There is a preconceived notion that STEM workers are nerds with pocket protectors hunched over a computer all day,” laughed Ron, a former law enforcement officer turned cybersecurity engineer. “That’s not the case! People currently working in technology and IT are doing exciting, innovative work that revolutionizes the way we live.”

Ron points to his team at CenturyLink’s Disruptive Innovation department — a mix of IT engineers/inventors and brilliant interns. Every day his team looks for new innovative ways to solve problems and deliver better services to customers through disruptive innovation— essentially a new, more cost effective way of doing things that revolutionizes an industry and eventually disrupts an existing market.


“For example, you can turn a $35 raspberry pi computer, a $15 arduino microcontroller, a sensor and a breadboard into an invention that runs your home for less than the cost of dinner out,” said Ron. “When I talk about the internet of things with students and how the future of technology is limited only by their imaginations, the students’ eyes light up. It’s so rewarding to see that spark of excitement in students, knowing that by encouraging them to pursue a STEM education, they can have satisfying and lucrative careers in technology.”

For this upcoming school year, Monroe’s STEM Academy enrollment has more than doubled to 170 students. School administrators also report the number of elementary and junior high students preparing to participate in the local robotics competition this year have doubled as well. This trend indicates that younger students will be better prepared to begin their STEM studies when they reach high school.

This STEM curriculum offers a flexible model for students to tailor a career tract that works for them.  For example, some students who aren’t interested in a college degree can earn industry-based certifications that qualify them for entry level IT jobs.  This school year, the Academies will offer training for the CompTia A+ certification, identified by IT professionals across the region as the most useful industry training.  Still other students can pursue a 2 year degree from a community college like Louisiana Delta Community College, while others can pursue a four year university degree in Cyber Engineering, Computer Science or Computer Information Systems from schools like Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, and University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Essentially, CenturyLink and other local, regional and state partners are building a talent pipeline that reaches from K-12 to higher education and eventually funnels skilled STEM workers to employers. CenturyLink is actively working with Louisiana universities to ensure their computer science and computer information systems curriculums align with the skill sets needed for industry.  The universities are eager for feedback from industry leaders, since the input helps them develop high quality graduates and enhances the quality of their programs.

“I encourage other companies to explore partnerships with education,” said Carrick Inabnett, Vice President of Economic Development. “Education leaders are often hungry for insight, and industry has a role to play in creating a pipeline of local talent. Let’s take the opportunity to shape our destiny.  Let’s create the future we want for North Louisiana.  Let’s change the story of North Louisiana to one of pride, hope and prosperity.”

The collaboration between private sector, K-12 and higher education creates a holistic plan that builds the intellectual capital of our region and our state. The workforce we build today will not only help sustain the success of CenturyLink, IBM and a host of other companies but will lead to high paying in-demand careers for students right here at home.






Festival Fun in Northeast Louisiana

The festival season in Northeast Louisiana officially kicks off in the summer— when the days are long, and the living is easy. Every community holds its own signature festival from Ruston’s Louisiana Peach Festival to Farmerville’s Louisiana Watermelon Festival to Monroe’s July 4th Fireworks Spectacular and the music concerts at Landry Vineyards in West Monroe. Don’t miss the following summer fun around Northeast Louisiana.

peach festivalRuston

The Louisiana Peach Festival 2018 is upon us, starting this weekend from June 22-23! This year’s festival celebrates Ruston’s “Peachy Paradise” with live music, arts and crafts, contests, games, tournaments, a rodeo, a peach parade and of course peach treats of all kinds. Admission is $10 each day, and a weekend pass is $15. Visit for an event schedule and locations.


The July 4th Fireworks Spectacular celebrates our nation’s independence on Saturday, June 30th, starting at 9pm along the beautiful Ouachita River. Don’t miss the breathtaking views of the fireworks show from Downtown Monroe RiverMarket on 100 DeSaird Street, Monroe. For more info, visit


Continue the Independence Day celebration with Fireworks over Lake D’Arbonne on Saturday, July 7th starting at 9 pm in Union Parish. Watch the fireworks display from the shore or from your boats. Lake D’Arbonne is considered one of the most scenic man-made reservoirs in the state. For more information call 318.368.3947

watermelon-festival.jpgFarmerville’s signature 53rd Annual Louisiana Watermelon Festival kicks off July 27-28th. Enjoy watermelon eating and seed spitting contests, a parade, a tennis tournament, a street dance, arts and crafts, along with food and games. One of the highlights of the festival is the Miss Louisiana Watermelon Pageant, a qualifier for the Miss Louisiana Pageant. For more info, visit

West Monroe

 As we head into the dog days of summer, Landry Vineyards will host its annual Blanc Du Bois Stomp Fest on Saturday, August 18 from 4:30pm to 8pm. Lisa Spann & Co. will rock the outdoor stage at Landry Vineyards, 5699 New Natchitoches Rd. in West Monroe. The concert is followed by a Lucy Ball grape stomping contest ̶ a nod to the iconic “I Love Lucy” episode. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for young adults (13-18) and free for children 12 and under. For more information, visit

Landry Vineyards Concert Series

Shaping Northeast Louisiana’s Workforce

By: Tim McIlveene, CenturyLink, Economic Development


(Monroe-West Monroe, LA) Communities across the country are grappling with workforce issues: retiring baby boomers leaving the workplace and a skills gap which leaves employers wondering how to fill job openings.  Communities that proactively tackle these important workforce issues will come out ahead in economic development.  This was the goal of the recent Ouachita Business Alliance (OBA) Northeast Louisiana Workforce Development Summit.  The event brought leaders from education, government and industry together to discuss challenges, opportunities and ways to collaborate to ensure that Northeast Louisiana high school graduates are ready either to join the workforce or to continue their education and training.

Some of the most effective ways to fight poverty and boost economic development are job creation, workforce development and education.  While many jobs and opportunities exist, the skills gap between an applicant’s skill sets and the job requirements prevents a potential worker from getting hired.  These gaps include soft and hard skills, such as work ethic, communication skills, problem-solving ability, technical know-how and math and computer skills.

31298050_1904324429586682_6586587186005540864_nThe Northeast Louisiana Workforce Summit featured multiple panel discussions, where educators and industry leaders discussed programs to address this skills gap. One such program is the State of Louisiana’s Jump Start program, which requires students to pick a career or educational pathway. If a student chooses a career pathway, he/she graduates high school with a recognized industry credential.  These credentials span a wide range of careers, including hands-on pathways like welding and manufacturing, and office-based pathways such as Information Technology (IT) certifications.

31271205_1904693136216478_110899246743420928_nWorkforce development is a collaborative effort, requiring employer input and participation in educational and workforce training programs.  That’s why area businesses are partnering with schools to bring real world expertise to the classroom.  For example, in Monroe City Schools, James Machine Works sends experienced welders to teach students the welding skills they need for this much in-demand profession.  CenturyLink is sponsoring STEM Academies in all three Monroe City high schools where students gain the knowledge to enter the high-growth and high-reward IT job market.  These types of partnerships are not only good for students, but also for businesses.  The idea is to build a homegrown pipeline of talent that has the skills necessary to join the workforce and quickly make meaningful contributions.

Phillip May, Pres. & CEO, Entergy Louisiana, speaks at NELA Workforce Summit.

Other panels discussed the challenges and the opportunities in today’s dynamic labor market and new models for community involvement in K-12 education.  Panelists and moderators included Paul Helton, Louisiana Economic Development; Dean Ron Berry, University of Louisiana at Monroe; Sekar Swaminathan, CenturyLink; Jay Mulhern, Express Employment Professionals; Jeff Hargrove and Brett Eager, Graphic Packaging; Jonathan Phillips, University Health; Tania Hilburn, JPMorgan Chase; Don Schillinger, Louisiana Tech University;  Matt Dickerson, Monroe City Schools; Supt. Richie Strong, West Carroll Parish Schools; Supt. David Claxton, Jackson Parish Schools; Angela Jenkins, Ouachita Parish Schools; and Angie White, North Louisiana Economic Partnership. The lunch program also featured keynote speaker, Phillip May, President & CEO of Entergy Louisiana, who discussed the need for more diversity and inclusion in today’s workplace.

Northeast Louisiana is primed for continued economic growth as our community trains the workforce of the future.  Business and community leaders must work with educators to ensure they have what they need to produce the best possible outcomes for their students:  graduates who have the skills to either enter the workforce or continue their education.



Pride in Place Starts NOW!

Join us for a Premiere Party on Thursday, April 12th at 5:30 pm at the Vantage Tower Banquet Room in downtown Monroe, which will hopefully become a turning point for more pride in place in Northeast Louisiana!

Northeast Louisiana Opportunity is a branding project, working to promote Northeast Louisiana with many community partners, including area chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, convention and visitor bureaus, universities, colleges,  private businesses and municipalities!  By showcasing what’s great about our region with a series of videos, which will be debuted at the Premiere Party, we hope to recruit more talent, residents and companies to our area. Join us to celebrate Northeast Louisiana! #FindYourOpportunity

Premiere Party Invitation