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, nlep.org/COLIcalculator. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.louisianapeachfestival.org/ 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 https://www.monroe-westmonroe.org/
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
Farmerville’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 http://www.louisianawatermelonfestival.org/
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 https://landryvineyards.com/concerts/
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.
The 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.
Workforce 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.
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.
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
Monroe-West Monroe Holiday Activities and Displays
Nov. 11- Dec. 31 – Freedom Trees
Celebrate the season with the Christmas trees, honoring veterans with a patch, ribbon, medal, or photo from their military service.
Chennault Aviation and Military Museum | 701 Kansas Lane, Monroe, LA 71201 | Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.| Cost: Free
Nov. 18-Dec. 23 – Santa’s Christmas Village
Bring the family to make holiday memories at The Children’s Museum! Decorate a Christmas cookie, play in our “snow,” write a letter to Santa, ride Mount Sneaux, make/take an ornament, play in the museum and visit with Santa. Ice skate (extra fee) and enjoy the Tree Jay’s musical show outside too. On December 23, Santa’s Christmas Village will be closing at 6 pm so Santa can get back to the North Pole.
Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum | 323 Walnut Street, Monroe |
Hours : Thursdays and Fridays from 5-8pm, Saturdays 10-8pm, Sundays 1-6pm | Cost: $7 per person ages 1 and up, skating $5 per person
Nov. 23-Dec. 31 – Holiday Lights at Christmas on the River
Don’t miss the lights in Downtown Monroe & West Monroe or TreeJays at the Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum nightly. Walk through the tunnel of lights at the Land of Lights, reminisce at Throwback Christmas, and delight at the Roe City Riverboat.
Louisville Avenue in Monroe and Trenton Street in West Monroe | Hours : after 5:00 pm nightly | Cost : Free
Nov. 24 -Dec. 23 – Evening Wagon Rides
Landry Vineyards is once again providing its wonderful wagon so everyone can take a ride through the festive lights in Monroe and West Monroe. The 30-minute rides begin at 5 PM every Friday and Saturday, starting Nov 24th through December 23rd.
Antique Alley | 100-400 blocks of Trenton Street, West Monroe |
Hours : 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm | Cost : Adults $3; Children $2.
Dec. 1-31 – Christmas at the Biedenharn
Enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the Biedenharn Home and Elsong Gardens, thanks to the Monroe Garden Study League. Be sure to come by to take your family Christmas snapshots.
Biedenharn Museum and Gardens | 2006 Riverside Drive, Monroe |
Hours: Tues-Sat 10:00 am to 5:00 pm | Cost : Adults- $6; Students under 12- $4
Dec. 14-17 and Dec. 21- Jan. 1 – Candy Cane Lane
Candy Cane Lane is a drive-through Christmas light display located in Calhoun, La., featuring over one million lights on a mile-long wooded road. For entrance to the park, take exit 103 off of I-20.
Candy Cane Lane | 170 Highway 151 North, Calhoun| 318.801.0670 |
Hours: 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm | Cost : Family vehicle- $20; Commercial vehicle (vans) – $40; no trailers
Dec. 14-15 – Miracleon 34th Street, Radio Version
A heartwarming holiday classic retold in the tradition of a live 1940’s era radio broadcast. When a department store Santa claims he’s the real Kris Kringle, his case gets taken all the way to the Supreme Court. Watch the miracle unfold when the belief of a little girl makes all the difference in this iconic story. Adapted from the 1947 Lux Radio Hour Broadcast and staged with live Foley effects and a score of holiday carols, Miracle on 34th Street is a beloved musical that will melt even the most cynical of hearts.
Strauss Theatre Center | 1300 Lamy Lane, Monroe | Hours : 7:00 pm |
Cost : $30 plus tax for Adult/$10 for Student
Dec. 15 – A Very Merry Oz Christmas
Join Dorothy, as she is swept away to the North Pole on Christmas Eve and re-discovers her Dear Friends in the Land of OZ! Dorothy soon realizes there really is NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!
W.L. “Jack” Howard Theatre at the Monroe Civic Center |401 Lea Joyner Memorial Expressway, Monroe |Hours: Patron Party at 6:30 pm; Theater Doors open at 7:00 pm | Cost: Ticket prices vary
Dec. 16 – Christmas in the Park
Christmas in the Park will be an extraordinary holiday event for the entire family. The event will consist of a living nativity from 4:30p.m.-6:30p.m. as well as family activities such as cookie decorating, s’mores making and a kiddie train ride from 4:00p.m.-7:00p.m. Food trucks will be on site and there will also be complimentary hot chocolate.
Anna Grey Noe Park | 251 Oak Street, Monroe|Hours: Starts at 4:30 p.m. | Cost: Free
Dec. 16 –Jungle Bells
Christmas at the Zoo. Admission will be provided by a donation made by Jeff Guerriero, The Injury Attorney!
Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo | 1405 Bernstein Park Road, Monroe | Hours: 12:00- 4:00 p.m.| Cost: Free
Dec. 16 –Jingle Bell Run Half Marathon & 5K
The 13.1 Half Marathon will begin near the River Market along the beautiful Ouachita River in Monroe. It will wind through historical Downtown Monroe and the Garden District. The 5K will also start near the River Market and the course will take you through historic Downtown Monroe.
RiverMarket |316 South Grand Street, Monroe |Hours: 8:00 a.m for Half Marathon, 8:30 a.m. for 5K Run/Walk | Cost : $75 Half Marathon until 11/25, $85 11/26-12/15 $95 Race Day; $25 5K Until 11/25 $30; 11/26-12/15 $35 Race Day
Dec. 17 –Cookies & Cocoa with Santa
Enjoy photos with Santa, Christmas cookie decorating, hot cocoa, treats, door prizes and more!
Hamilton House | 318 Trenton Street, West Monroe | Hours : 2:00 pm | Cost : $20 per child (0-17); 1 Free adult per child
Dec. 20 – Coca-Cola Christmas Truck at the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens
Don’t miss this special Coke moment while the Coca-Cola truck is on display at the museum. After viewing the truck, be sure to enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the Biedenharn Home and Elsong Gardens thanks to the Monroe Garden Study League. The truck will be parked on Riverside in front of the museum.
Biedenharn Museum and Gardens | 2006 Riverside Drive, Monroe | Hours : 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm | Cost: Free
Ruston Holiday Activities and Displays
Dec. 14 – “A Tuna Christmas”
This hilarious two-man sequel to “Greater Tuna” tells the story of Christmas in the third smallest town in Texas.
The Norton Building | 207 W Mississippi Ave, Ruston | Hours: 7 p.m.|Cost: $10
Dec. 15 – Christmas at the Dixie
Come out and celebrate the season as Lawrence Gibbs and the Russ-Town Band jingle-bell rock the Dixie stage with holiday classics!
Dixie Center for the Arts | 212 N Vienna St, Ruston | Hours: 7 p.m. | Cost: donations accepted
Dec. 1-31 – Ice Skating
Ruston’s ice skating returns to Downtown Ruston! The rink will be open every weekend in December. Skating sessions are 45 minutes.
Historic Fire Station |220 E Mississippi Ave, Ruston, LA | Hours: Fridays: 3-10 p.m.; Saturdays: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Santa stops by Sundays: 4-10 p.m. | Cost:$10 per person; skates provided.
Dec. 1-31 – Bank of Ruston Holiday Art Exhibit
Stop by the Bank of Ruston’s “Mapping Out a Future for the Arts” exhibit featuring original works of art that incorporate maps found in Ruston’s historic Federal Building.
Bank of Ruston | 505 North Vienna Street, Ruston, LA | Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. | Cost: Free
Dec. 17 – Sip and See Event
Sip on hot apple cider and see what gifts you can find at the shops on Bastrop’s Courthouse Square and Main Street. Local shops around the square open their doors to accommodate last-minute holiday shoppers. Merchants deck out their stores and help customers find their last-minute Christmas gifts.
Bastrop Courthouse Square |North Washington Street, Bastrop | Hours: 1-5 p.m. | Contact: 318.283.2902 | Cost: Free
Union Parish Activities
December 16 – Town of Marion Annual Christmas Parade
Enjoy an ole fashion Christmas Parade set to the theme of “A Christmas Story.” Santa Clause will make a guest appearance from the North Pole.
Downtown Marion in Union Parish | Hours: 6 pm
Riding in tandem, the Mayors of Monroe and West Monroe pedaled along Endom Bridge to commemorate a new bicycle route that connects downtown Monroe to downtown West Monroe.
It was long-awaited sight! Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris along with other riders cycled across the bridge that’s part of a larger 7.1-mile designated bike path through Monroe and West Monroe.
The new bicycle path in West Monroe begins at the foot of the Endom Bridge; travels through Lazarre Park before looping back to the bridge; and heads north along Riverside Drive to the Forsythe Park Boat Docks in Monroe.
This memorable bike ride will hopefully be the first of many to come. Representatives of both cities, the Ouachita Business Alliance (OBA), the Monroe Advocates for Safe Streets (MASS) and other community leaders are working to develop new bicycle paths that connect throughout Ouachita Parish and enhance the quality of life for its residents. In West Monroe, the City and the West Monroe West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce are working with MASS and other community partners to identify and build new bike routes ̶ some of which will hopefully be ready by 2018.
Connecting the two cities with bike routes was a dream of Miles Luke, a founding member of MASS who passed away last December. Miles and members of MASS helped spearhead the development of the multiple bike paths in Monroe over the past several years. Since 2009, six bike routes have been dedicated for a total of 26.45 miles of bicycle pathways.
Ruston Sets Goal of Becoming the “Healthy Active Lifestyle Capital of North Louisiana”
Cycling over to Ruston, the City is working hard to become the “Healthy Active Lifestyle Capital of North Louisiana!” In April 2016, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the Moving Ruston Forward initiative, enabling the City of Ruston to embark on an ambitious plan to build streets, complete water and sewer upgrades, as well as build active transportation infrastructures, such as walking, jogging and bicycling pathways.
The goal is to connect more than 50 percent of Ruston’s households to an active transportation pathway by 2020. This means that within the next four years at least 11,000 people will live within a two-minute bike ride or a ten-minute walk from a healthy, fun, and intuitive way of getting around town.
Construction is now underway on the Rock Island Greenway which will be the centerpiece of Ruston’s new bicycle/pedestrian network. Redeveloped from an abandoned railroad right-of-way, this 6-mile trail will dramatically improve community health by establishing unprecedented opportunities for physical activity, active transportation, and exercise.
Rock Island Greenway will connect neighborhoods, businesses, schools, Louisiana Delta Community College, Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Louisiana Tech University. The Greenway also greatly expands access to health care, jobs, social support services, cultural centers, and recreation. Furthermore, the Greenway will pass through some of the city’s poorest, most underserved neighborhoods, where opportunities for physical activity and recreation are especially limited. Many of these residents rely on walking and/or bicycling as their main form of transportation.
The City of Ruston’s plan, funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation grant, focuses on reducing the harmful health outcomes related to chronic inactivity and social inequity by filling the most critical gaps in Ruston’s active transportation infrastructure.
“To inform this plan, the Mayor’s Office and Public Works Departments, along with the Lincoln Parish GIS District, have analyzed US Census data, average daily traffic surveys, population density, Ruston Police Department and Louisiana Transportation Research Center crash data; gathered public input at multiple forums; and conducted a preliminary cost/benefit analysis of 75 potential projects in order to identify and prioritize the top three projects that will deliver the greatest health equity impact,” said Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker.
“With the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation’s support, 31 percent of Ruston’s households and 55 percent of businesses will be within a half mile of dedicated active transportation infrastructure — dramatically improving mobility for thousands of people of all ages, races, abilities and economic backgrounds — an incredible outcome,” exclaimed Walker!
“The million-dollar grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation will enable the City to build safe and pleasant ways for people to walk and bike along Vaughn Avenue, Line Avenue, and Mississippi Street,” said Ammen Jordan, Director of Development for the City of Ruston. “These sidewalks and bike lanes will connect schools, parks, childcare and medical services in areas with a high percentage of impoverished African Americans without access to cars. This initiative will also establish safe routes for students from the Louisiana Center for the Blind as they walk between their apartments and downtown classrooms.”
Ruston’s new active transportation pathways expand Lincoln Parish’s already impressive network of biking trails at Lincoln Parish Park and R. L. Cook Park.
Ranked among the top 25 mountain biking trails in the nation, Lincoln Parish Park’s 10-plus mile loop was designed in 1992 with input from biking enthusiasts. The mountain biking trail offers many twists and turns, up-and-down steep inclines, and is suitable for all skill levels. The biking system lies inside a 260-acre forested park.
R. L. Cook Park’s 1.75-mile biking trail was recently constructed amidst the park’s 28 acres of woods. It features a 22-foot bridge, banked turns and tabletop features for bikers, trail runners and hikers.
While the new bicycle routes offer healthy alternatives to travel, they also connect people to their communities in very profound ways.
A recruitment team comprised of the City of Ruston, the Ruston-Lincoln CVB and the Ruston Dixie Baseball Association stepped up to the plate and a scored a home run! Mayor Ronny Walker announced (8/14/17) that the City of Ruston won the bid to host the Dixie Youth Baseball (DYB) 2019 World Series for the 8u AA Coach Pitch and Machine Pitch, the 10u AAA Minors Live Arm, the 12u Majors, and the 12u O-Zone. The two week-long, youth baseball tournament will bring in 60 teams from 11 southern states. The economic impact for hotels, motels, restaurants, and other businesses is projected to be at least $6 million for what promises to be the single largest youth sporting event for the City of Ruston and Lincoln Parish.
“Hotels and motels will be filled from Ruston to Monroe to Minden- all along the I-20 corridor,” said Travis Napper, President and CEO for the Ruston-Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “Because the DYB World Series will take place over two weeks with only one game played daily, visitors will be eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores, and visiting local attractions. There’s a tremendous economic impact for Northeast Louisiana.”
Mayor Walker believes it took teamwork and community support to win the DYB World Series. Walker points to the three-quarter cent sales tax approved in April 2016 that funds Ruston’s master plan, which includes a $15 million sports complex. The brand new, City of Ruston Sports Complex on 170 acres is a big reason why the Dixie Youth organization selected the City of Ruston, according to Mayor Walker.
The Sport Complex boasts multiple ball fields, soccer and football areas, a walking track and even a fishing pond. Phase I of the construction on the Sports Complex will be to build out the baseball fields in time for the DYB World Series to be held July 29 to August 9, 2019.
Youth Sports Tourism is Big Business!
According to Youth Sports Advisory, youth sports tourism is a $7 billion a year industry- just ask any parent with kids in travel ball. Mayor Walker says according to the southern average a typical family spends nearly $500 a weekend for each travel game. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association points to the fact that even in an economic downturn, youth sports tourism is almost recession-proof. Parents will sacrifice a couple’s get-away before they’ll sacrifice their children’s sports travel. Youth sports are commonly defined as nonschool-related sport activities that include baseball, soccer, lacrosse, rowing, volleyball and gymnastics.
Northeast Louisiana, known as “Sportsman Paradise,” is well positioned to capture this booming youth sports market. The Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau has been recruiting sporting events as part of its tourism attraction strategy since the early 90s. Scott Bruscato, Senior Vice President of Sales, leads the Monroe-West Monroe CVB’s sports recruitment efforts. Bruscato says Northeast Louisiana and Monroe-West Monroe specifically have great sports facilities and venues; along with partnerships with local universities and team-friendly hotels; and a sports culture that keep youth sporting events coming back year after year.
This summer Monroe-West Monroe hosted the Dixie Baseball Majors World Series for 18 and 19 year olds. The event will return to the area for another two years in 2018 and 2019. Also, the Dixie Baseball pre-Major for 16-17 year olds will come to Monroe-West Monroe in 2019. The economic impact of the 2017 Dixie Majors World Series, which brought in 11 teams from across the Southeastern U.S., totaled $175,000 over the five-day period.
Over the past six years, Monroe-West Monroe hosted the BMX Cajun Nationals at the Ike Hamilton in West Monroe. More than 800 riders competed in the three-day bike event, generating $168,000 in economic impact.
For the first time, Northeast Louisiana also played host to the Collegiate Wakeboarding Invitational August 11th-13th on Bayou Desiard in the middle of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s campus. Sixteen teams from across the country were invited to duke it out to determine who would be crowned the National Champion. The economic impact of that event totaled $115,000.
In just the last six months of 2017, the estimated economic impact for sport tourism in Ouachita Parish is nearly $4.7 million, according the Monroe-West Monroe CVB. With such big returns, communities are investing big dollars to capture a slice of this booming market. The Town of Sterlington in Ouachita Parish passed a half-cent sales tax to fund a $14 million sports complex with five regulation high school baseball fields and five regulation softball fields and two tee ball fields in order to host tournaments. Upon completion of Phase I of construction, the Sterlington Sports Complex (SSC) will be the only complex in the state capable of hosting five high school baseball games simultaneously. Using temporary fencing, SSC could also host up to ten softball or ten youth baseball games at the same time.
It’s an investment that appears to be paying off for the Town of Sterlington, since SSC already has a dozen tournaments scheduled for 2018 and is getting daily calls for more business. Sports tourism isn’t just fun and games; it’s serious business!
When Kiroli Park in West Monroe opened Smiles Park in June, the $1 million plus, inclusive playground served as an investment in the quality of life for area families. The playground was designed by a world renowned organization in California, Shane’s Inspiration, and is the first of its kind in the southeast U.S. Its unique design allows children with and without disabilities to play alongside each other.
Smiles Park offers outdoor inclusive play environments that are age-appropriate and includes safe, sensory-rich play structures. The playground also accommodates wheelchairs and provides special play equipment suited to most types of disabilities.
The West Monroe Civitan Club spent four years spearheading and fundraising for this project. Thanks to the generosity of the City of West Monroe and donors who supported Smiles Park, the Civitan Club was able to advance its vision of fostering a bias-free world for children with disabilities.
Smiles Park was designed with a fair theme as a nod to the Civitan’s annual fundraiser, the Ark-La-Miss Fair. To help facilitate inclusive play, Shane’s Inspiration has developed educational materials and will help launch workshops and Play Clubs this fall.
For more information visit us on Facebook at Civitan Smiles Park or call Kiroli Park at 318-396-4016.
Economic Benefits of Parks
Besides enhancing the quality of life for area families, Smiles Park and other green spaces boost the local economy. In Louisiana, parks generate $1.5 billion in economic activity and create more than 12,000 jobs, according to an economic impact study by the National Recreation and Parks Association. Parks enhance property values, increase municipal revenue, bring in home buyers and workers, and attract retirees. Northeast Louisiana is blessed with many natural habitats, which is why our region has been dubbed “Sportsman’s Paradise.”
Ruston Invests in Green Spaces
As part of its Moving Ruston Forward initiative approved by voters in April 2016, the City of Ruston plans to spend $1 million to redevelop an old railroad right-of-way as a greenway. Named Rock Island Greenway after the railroad that once used this right-of-way, the linear park will boast biking, jogging and walking trails.
What is a greenway? It is a linear greenspace that encourages recreation and active transportation such as walking and biking. Rock Island Greenway will eventually run almost 6 miles across the city, connecting neighborhoods, businesses, educational institutions, and recreational amenities.
The first leg of the greenway officially opened in June and runs south from the intersection of W. Kentucky and Chautauqua. This twelve foot wide path traverses a native forest aside a small creek. Rock Island Greenway will be the first of its kind in the region and will serve as a vital transportation link that fosters a vibrant and active culture, encourages economic development and opportunity, promotes safety and health, and offers a state-of-the art public space. Learn more about Lincoln Parish’s parks at the Ruston-Lincoln Park Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Ouachita Parish Defines “Sportsman’s Paradise”
Ouachita Parish boasts nearly a dozen parks, wildlife refuges, and wildlife management areas, including Forsythe Park. Located in the City of Monroe, the 53-acre, urban oasis offers picnic areas, a 9-hole golf course, putt-putt golf, tennis courts, softball, soccer fields, bike trails, and a children’s park. Beach volleyball courts, a jogging path and a public boat launch are located over the levee along the Ouachita River.
Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge is majestic 4,500-acre expanse of lake, swamp, and wildlife habitat for all manner of plants and animal species. Everything from small alligators and turtles to coyote, deer and a wide variety of birds can be found at Black Bayou. Go bird-watching from the wildlife pier or walk along nature trails or kayak on the quiet beauty of the 1,600-acre lake. Learn more about these parks and other natural habitats at the Monroe-West Monroe Convention & Visitors Bureau .
Union Parish’s D’Arbonne State Park Attracts Tourism
Considered the crown jewel in Farmerville’s tourism industry, D’Arbonne State Park in Union Parish ranks as a star attraction in the Louisiana State Park system. The Park draws an estimated 90,000 visitors annually, according to the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. From out-of-state visitors alone, D’Arbonne generates $1.2 million in economic impact annually for the local economy and supports 19 jobs.
With a 15,250 acre man-made lake as its centerpiece, D’Arbonne State Park offers cabins, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a boat launch ramp, a fishing pier, trailer hook-ups, meeting rooms, and pavilions. The Lake attracts fishermen of all ages and skill levels as well as water sports enthusiasts. Lake D’Arbonne also attracts retirees who have built their second or retirement homes along its shores.
Photographers love to capture the Park’s natural beauty from the vantage point of the tree stands in the towering pines. The Park’s rolling hills with its diverse trails are sure to challenge even avid cyclists. Learn more about Lake D’Arbonne Park at the Town of Farmerville.
Morehouse Parish’s Emerald Landscape
Wildlife refuges, parks, bayou ecosystems and nature preserves dot Morehouse Parish’s lush landscape, creating a tapestry of natural beauty. The star attraction in the Parish’s ecotourism is Chemin-A-Haut State Park, located 10 miles north of Bastrop. The 503-acre park draws nearly 50,000 visitors annually according to Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. It generates $732,758 in economic impact for the local economy and supports 11 jobs.
This historic state park offers many activities on Big Slough Lake, Chemin-a-Haut Creek and Bayou Bartholomew, allowing for fishing, kayaking, canoeing. Chemin-A-Haut Park was designed with families in mind with two playgrounds, open pavilions and an amphitheater available for a variety of events. Portions of the Park are equine friendly and host trail rides.
Other green attractions in Morehouse Parish include Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuge and Kalorama Reily Nature Preserve. Learn more about these natural assets at Morehouse Economic Development Corp.
Downtowns represent the heart and soul of any thriving community. They are iconic and powerful symbols, epitomizing the image and character of a city. Given that most downtowns were one of the oldest neighborhoods citywide, they offer rare insights into their city’s past, present and future. They serve an important role in economic and social development, creating a critical mass of activities where commercial, cultural, and civic activities are concentrated.
Recognizing the value and importance of downtowns, Northeast Louisiana is investing resources to revitalize these neighborhoods. Communities throughout the region have begun restoring their downtowns and developing new infrastructure to maximize the commercial and cultural potential of these neighborhoods.
Downtown Monroe Gets a Major Boost with a New RiverWalk and Renovations of Historic Buildings
The City of Monroe broke ground on a new $3.2 million RiverWalk in downtown Monroe. The 2-thousand foot long walkway promises to open up new development along the Ouachita River. Stretching from Louisville Avenue and to the Masur Museum, the brick Riverwalk will tie together restaurants, residential, office, and retail development within the newly revitalized downtown district.
New life returns to many historic buildings in downtown Monroe as historic preservation efforts peel back years of bad remodeling and neglect. The former Virginia Hotel which also served as the old State Office Building has been fully refurbished, featuring some of the original flooring and fixtures from the 1920s. Vantage Health Plan invested $22 million to painstakingly renovate the once grand hotel, creating an equally grand, multi-use building with retail on the first floor and office and event space on the upper floors.
Soon Castle Hall, a century old historic building in the downtown area, will be redeveloped as a condo complex, adding much needed residential space in downtown Monroe. The former Knights of Pythias’ building which once housed sick families and widows of the war will be converted into 12 condos. Developers Jason and Jennifer Thomas will also redevelop the former Chef Han Food manufacturing building into luxury condominiums. The entrepreneurial couple has purchased other downtown properties for redevelopment.
Other private developers have joined the movement to revitalize downtown Monroe, by purchasing older properties for redevelopment. The synergy of public and private development promises to fulfill a dream of many downtown development groups who want to see downtown Monroe flourish as a destination to live, work, and play.
West Monroe’s Historic Cotton Port District Gets a Face-lift
Across the River, downtown West Monroe thrives as a commercial corridor- full of life, energy and activity. Reminiscent of its glory days as a booming cotton import and export hub, the Cotton Port Historic District, Antique Alley and surrounding areas once again sparkle after numerous restoration and beautification projects, led by the Downtown West Monroe Revitalization Group (DWMRG).
Projects like the installation of large painted medallions at two main intersections revitalize the look of downtown West Monroe. The crosswalk medallions, designed and implemented by ARROW Public Art, depict the cotton industry’s historical modes of transportation.
Another preservation project restored an iconic metal sculpture to its former glory. Created by Edmund Williamson, the metal flower sculpture has been located in downtown West Monroe for at least 20 years. Dulled by the elements, its spinning pinwheel flowers rusted by age, the once colorful garden of metal flowers will be restored to its original colors and its movable parts repaired. The sculpture is a highly recognizable piece of public art that helps give Antique Alley its unique character.
Another beautification project implemented on both sides of the Ouachita River remind us of our rich entrepreneurial history. ARROW Public Art restored the Coca-Cola murals in Monroe and West Monroe, LA. The popular soft drink was first bottled by the Biedenharn family in Monroe. Joseph Biedenharn built a thriving business empire, including the founding of Delta Airlines in Monroe; but it all started with bottling Coca-Cola right here in Northeast Louisiana.
Additionally, DWMRG coordinated fundraising from various partners for ARROW Public Art to implement postcard murals in both downtown West Monroe and Monroe. Work is currently taking place on the mural in West Monroe, and the one in Monroe should begin soon.
Ruston Earns National Historic Designation for its Downtown District
Downtown Ruston is the heart of this progressive Northeast Louisiana college town. The City’s downtown is considered a Louisiana Historic District, a Cultural District, a Downtown Development District and one of only 37 Main Street Communities in Louisiana. Now, you can add “National Historic Place” to the area’s long list of accolades. Recently, Ruston earned the distinction of having most of its downtown area added to the National Register of Historic Places.
78 downtown Ruston buildings are named on the National Registry – four of which are listed individually, including the Dixie Center for the Arts, the Federal Building, Ruston State Bank, and Ruston USO. This designation allows owners of income producing properties the opportunity to apply for Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits. By combining the State Commercial Tax Credit and the Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, property owners have the potential to offset their rehabilitation costs by 45%.
The historic district extends north to south from Florida to Texas Streets and east to west from Bonner to Monroe Streets. This 18-block historic downtown district offers both residents and tourists a slice of life with specialty retail shops, restaurants, restored buildings, historic architecture and unique public art.
Farmerville Revitalizes its Downtown with New Development
Farmerville will launch a major downtown restoration program, adding new sidewalks, light poles, and a new irrigation system to water plants along sidewalks in downtown Farmerville- a popular cultural and commercial gathering spot. Downtown Farmerville will also add new parking on the west and northeast side of the Union Parish Courthouse. The revitalization project is expected to begin in 2018.
Additionally, an historic Farmerville building, which currently houses the Union Community Action organization, will soon be renovated and developed into the Union Parish Cultural District building. This exciting move compliments the new Union Museum of History and Arts located nearby.
Bastrop’s Main Street Program Preserves its Small Town Culture
Bastrop’s Courthouse Square lies at the center of its historic downtown area. The restored 1914 Morehouse Parish Courthouse anchors an eight-block retail, government, cultural and Main Street district in this small town of more than 10,500 residents. Its historic buildings still serve as the main gathering spot for events and entertainment.
Antiques stores, commercial businesses, quaint boutiques and government offices surround the Courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. New retail establishments keep the district vibrant. Roma Bistro, a full-service Italian restaurant, will soon open its doors in this historic district, adding more spice to the area’s southern food scene.
Another cultural touchstone that connects the Bastrop community is the Rose Theatre, which is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Rose was built in 1927 as an old vaudeville house. Years later it would become a movie theater; a popular hangout for locals until the late 1970s when it closed its doors. The Theater was reopened in 1985 as a community theater, home to the Cotton Country Players. Run by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, the Rose hosts performing arts and musical events, including the upcoming Victory Belles from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Sunday, July 2 at 2:00 P.M.
Bastrop is also home to the historic Snyder Museum and Creative Arts Center, housed in a circa 1929 home. Volunteers lead heritage appreciation tours using local artifacts from a bygone era. The beautiful gardens at the museum is a favorite venue for local weddings and events.
Another exciting preservation project is the restoration and adaptive reuse of the 1927 Bastrop High School, a National Register building once listed as one of the “Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites in Louisiana.” A public/private partnership converted the school into 60 affordable independent living units for senior citizens and has created 15 jobs in the process.
The project will increase the tax base, attract retirees to help certify Bastrop as a Louisiana retirement community and will likely lead to the development of related service businesses. The school’s original educational mission continues by offering classes to seniors in the library and by educating the community on the value of historic preservation.