Northeast Louisiana Blog

Parks in Northeast Louisiana Enhance Our Quality of Life & Economy

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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.

20170527_louisiana_helicam_smiles_park-11Smiles 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.

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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.

Ruston Rock Island Greenway Logo

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.

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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”

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Fishing at Black Bayou Lake in Ouachita Parish

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

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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

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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.

Northeast Louisiana Revitalizes its Downtowns

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Downtown Monroe along the banks of the Ouachita River in Northeast Louisiana

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

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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.

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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

antique alleyAcross 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.

restoration1Another 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

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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

Union Parish CourthouseFarmerville 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

morehouse-courthouse.jpegBastrop’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.

bastroprosecroppedAnother 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.

 

 

Northeast Louisiana’s Economy Thrives

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Northeast Louisiana celebrated two major economic development wins in just the last two months. On April 28th, Graphic Packaging and  DHL announced a combined $274 million investment in Monroe, and on March 22nd, Monster Moto dedicated its new headquarters and assembly plant in Ruston.

Graphic Packaging and DHL broke ground on a new 1.27 million square foot, carton converting and logistics facility in Monroe, which will create 93 new direct jobs.  Graphic Packaging will also modernize its existing West Monroe paper mill, transforming the plant into a next generation, state-of-the-art facility. Graphic Packaging will continue to employ more than 800 people in its West Monroe mill and in the new carton plant, consolidating the carton production from the company’s two existing carton sites in West Monroe to the new Monroe site.

“After a thorough analysis of our manufacturing needs, it was clear that Ouachita Parish was the best location for this new facility,” said Michael Doss, CEO, Graphic Packaging. “A number of factors influenced our decision, including access to an experienced and skilled local workforce and our relationship with the State of Louisiana and local community.” Read More>>>

MONSTER MOTO DEDICATES ITS NEW HEADQUARTERS IN RUSTON

Monster Moto, a high-profile manufacturer of youth-oriented vehicles, cut the ribbon on its new 100,000-square-foot headquarters, assembly facility, warehouse and showroom. Gov. John Bel Edwards, Monster Moto CEO Alexander Keechle, Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker and NLEP were on hand for the grand opening.

“We are proud to celebrate the grand opening of Monster Moto’s new Ruston facility,” Gov. Edwards said. “This project represents a tremendous win for this community and our entire state. As Monster Moto grows its assembly operations in Ruston, company leadership will be able to hire from Louisiana’s highly skilled workforce. We’re pleased that Louisiana Tech University also has become a collaborative partner with Monster Moto in engineering innovative business solutions. This company and its products embody the things we cherish in Louisiana – youthful adventure, quality time with our families and the exploration of our outdoor landscape.”

Over the next decade, the project will create 287 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $46,800, plus benefits. More than 50 of those jobs have been filled to date. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in an additional 292 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 570 new jobs in North

North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP), an Accredited Regional Economic Development Organization, worked with Monster Moto’s site selection firm to bring the company to North Louisiana. After a comprehensive site selection process, Monster Moto chose Ruston due in large part to the city’s leadership in developing a facility for the company.

“We congratulate the City of Ruston on their innovative public-private partnership that redeveloped a site at the former Ruston Municipal Airport into the new home of Monster Moto,” said President Scott Martinez of the North Louisiana Economic Partnership. “NLEP is proud to have partnered with the City of Ruston to recruit this high-profile company to North Louisiana.” Learn More>>>

Bastrop Named Among Top Micropolitans in Nation

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BASTROP, La. — Bastrop in Northeast Louisiana has been named among the nation’s top 100 micropolitans for economic development by Site Selection magazine, a leading economic development journal. A micropolitan is a statistical area with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000.

Bastrop ranked no. 78 out of 575 micropolitans nationwide, with two economic development projects in 2016. The two economic development wins that landed the City of Bastrop in the Top 100 Micropolitan list involved Kennedy Rice Mills and EDP Renewables North America.

“We are proud of the progress that the City of Bastrop has made in reenergizing and diversifying our economy,” said Mayor Arthur Jones, City of Bastrop. “Companies like Drax Biomass, DG Foods, Flying Tigers Aviation, John N John Trucking, and Kennedy Rice Mills have recently located in and around Bastrop and Morehouse Parish because of our competitive advantages and aggressive recruitment efforts.”

Last August, Kennedy Rice Mills launched its newest line of organic white and brown rice under the brand KenChaux Rice.  The estimated $2 million investment positioned Kennedy Rice Mills to capture a share of the growing organic food market. Kennedy Rice has been growing steadily since it first began construction of its $10 million rice mill in 2011, creating 22 jobs. This latest expansion solidifies the company’s presence in the small community of Mer Rouge, just north of Bastrop.

In 2016, EDP Renewables North America, based in Houston, initiated its plan to locate a solar energy plant along the 165 corridor in Morehouse Parish.  The project is expected to generate $78.5 million in capital investment and to create two new jobs. EDP Renewables North America is part of the global energy company, EDP Renewables, with wind farms and solar plants in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

“It is great to see this community recognized,” said Kay King, CEO, Morehouse Economic Development Corp.  “Bastrop continues to grow and develop a more diverse business base.  We are thankful for the companies that saw opportunity and invested in us.”

This is the second time that Bastrop made Site Selection’s Top Micropolitan List. In 2014, Bastrop was recognized for the Drax Biomass’ $120 million investment. The renewable energy company, based out of the United Kingdom, built a wood pellet facility in Morehouse Parish, creating 60 new jobs. For the last five years, Bastrop and Morehouse Parish have landed many economic development projects, including DG Foods, which created nearly 400 jobs and Flying Tiger Aviation which created 21 new jobs.

The community took aggressive action to develop a new economic development plan and to rebrand itself following the closure of its largest employer, International Paper.  Bastrop’s unemployment rate continues to decline as more and more companies create new jobs in Bastrop and Morehouse Parish.

Northeast Louisiana Ranks as a Top Retirement Destination

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Antique Alley, named a “Shopaholic’s Delight,” boost West Monroe’s quality of place.   Photo courtesy of Monroe-West Convention & Visitors Bureau

Northeast Louisiana ranks as a top spot for retirees! West Monroe was named in the top three cities for retirees, according to SmartAsset’s third annual study on the Best Places to Retire. The study rates cities by their tax friendliness, recreational and social opportunities for seniors, and availability of medical care. For a detailed look at how West Monroe compared to other top cities in Louisiana, check the table below.

Rank Louisiana City Tax Doctor Offices per 1,000 People Recreation Centers per 1,000 People Retirement Centers per 1,000 people % of Seniors Best Place to Retire Index
1 Covington 19.6% 15.6 2.7 0.2 14.2% 37.60
2 Mandeville 19.7% 8.2 1.7 0.2 15.8% 26.51
3 West Monroe 20.6% 7.0 1.4 0.2 17.0% 21.90
4 Marksville 18.2% 3.6 0.5 0.0 15.1% 20.30
5 Denham Springs 20.0% 3.0 1.6 0.4 15.3% 19.72

Ruston Profiled as a Top Retirement Spot by “Where to Retire”

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The City of Ruston was also picked as a top retirement destination by “Where to Retire,” the only magazine in America geared toward helping people with retirement relocation decisions. Ruston was profiled in a feature titled “8 Tax-Friendly Towns” in the January/February 2017 issue.  After analyzing taxes on everything from property to purchases to Social Security, the magazine narrowed the list down to eight towns, including Ruston, that are easy on taxation yet still offer amenities important to retirees. Such amenities include cultural and entertainment opportunities, temperate climates, continuing education, excellent health care and outdoor adventures with breathtaking vistas.

Monroe’s Quality of Life Appeals to Seniors

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Considered the healthcare hub for Northeast Louisiana, Monroe provides quality health care for retirees, along with an exceptional quality of life. Many top-rated hospitals offer specialized and emergency care. A Monroe VA Clinic and Northeast Louisiana Veterans Home provide short-term and long-term medical care to an aging veteran population.

Monroe also offers a host of housing options from downtown loft living to upscale neighborhoods to retirement communities. Convenient public transportation, a host of cultural activities, restaurants and shopping cater to the active retiree. With one of the lowest cost of living in Louisiana, the Monroe MSA delivers more “bang for the buck” for seniors on a fixed income.

Union Parish: State Certified Retirement Community

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Lake D’Arbonne in Union Parish attracts many retirees to its tranquil shores.

Union Parish is recognized as a Certified Retirement Community, the first in Northeast Louisiana. This parish has long been an idyllic location for retirees who want to live near Lake D’Arbonne, a beautiful 15,000-acre lake filled with bass, crappie, bream and catfish.

Along with fishing, boating and other watersports, nearby Farmerville offers many other amenities that appeal to senior citizens, including shopping, golf, and other cultural activities.

Farmerville recently launched a major downtown restoration program, adding new sidewalks, light poles, a new water system to irrigate plants along sidewalks, and new parking lots on the west and the northeast side of the Union Parish Courthouse.

Additionally, an historic Farmerville  building 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 Offers Small Town Life with Access to Big City Amenities

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Historic Rose Theater in Bastrop’s town square stages live performances.

The City of Bastrop in Morehouse Parish calls itself America’s Hometown because of its low cost of living, natural beauty, ease of living and family-friendly atmosphere-the same qualities that appeal to many retirees.

Bastrop also supports a host of top-rated senior care and living facilities, hospitals and other medical clinics. The Morehouse Council on Aging caters to the needs of its senior citizen community with a host of services and features such as a gym with wellness and balance programs.

Less than 30 minutes from an urban center, Bastrop provides convenient access to all the comforts of a larger city (Monroe is 26 miles south) without the hassle of living in heavily populated area.

Growing the STEM Workforce in Northeast Louisiana

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CenturyLink Executive Vice President Stacey Goff announced plans to bring STEM education to Monroe City and Ouachita Schools.

CenturyLink, Inc., a Fortune 159 technology company based in Monroe, LA, is partnering with the City of Monroe, the Monroe City School System, the Ouachita Parish School System and the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC) to bring a nationally recognized STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum to local students.

“CenturyLink is dedicated to enhancing the communities it serves in a meaningful way and is excited to help bring 21st century skills and curricula to local students,” said Stacey Goff, executive vice president and general counsel for CenturyLink. “We recognize the importance of introducing young people to STEM concepts to better prepare them for successful careers and to build the pipeline with future employees.”

“Partnerships in Education is number 40 on my 60 for 60 project list,” said Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo. “The City of Monroe is extremely proud to invest in this educational program. STEM competencies help prepare students to be critical thinkers, persevere through challenges, communicate and collaborate to solve complex problems. This effort will help produce a larger highly trained workforce that will benefit northeastern Louisiana as our region continues to grow and prosper.”

“One of the CIC’s primary missions is to develop a sustainable, knowledge-based workforce that can support the growing needs of government, industry, and academia,” said Craig Spohn, executive director & president of the Cyber Innovation Center.

In 2010, the CIC created the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC) to advance its academic outreach and workforce development programs across the nation. NICERC works with its partners to design project-driven, application-based curricula that engage students across primary, secondary, and post-secondary grade levels. The Department of Homeland Security identified NICERC as the national model for cyber education and thus allows for the free distribution of content and curricula.

“CenturyLink is also focused on mitigating cyberattacks for our customers with viable cybersecurity strategies,” Goff said. “This is another area where students can focus their skills as these preventative strategies must address increasingly wide-ranging issues to be effective.”

The robust library of curricula, The Cyber InterstateTM, contains numerous full-year, K-12 courses that are modular in form and hands-on. This design provides teachers and school systems with a rigorous program that showcases a systems-level understanding of real-world applications of STEM and cyber. In addition, this context-based approach to STEM incorporates components of liberal arts, allowing teachers to embed the curricula across multiple disciplines.

“Bringing this program to our schools will help open a world of options to our students,” said Dr. Brent Vidrine, superintendent of the Monroe City School System. “Our teachers are dedicated to preparing our kids for the future and this will be a huge step toward doing that.”

“I couldn’t agree more with the other partners who have helped bring this opportunity to our students that the benefits will be far reaching and meaningful,” said Dr. Don Coker, superintendent of the Ouachita Parish School System. “Anytime we can offer courses that will help our students compete when initiating their careers, we accomplish a win-win for them and our communities.”

Supporting the Technology Cluster with Workforce Recruitment

The expansion of a STEM curriculum into local schools is but one of the many initiatives underway to nurture and grow our technology cluster. To support the workforce needs of our employers in Northeast Louisiana, community partners have launched a workforce recruitment and retention initiative, based on rebranding the metro area around Monroe, LA.  By marketing a four-parish region in Northeast Louisiana, our communities are working to attract and retain the high-tech workforce needed to support the growth of a technology corridor.

The Branding Project includes a Northeast Louisiana Digital Neighbors Program. Digital Neighbors are a connected group of people who are passionate about sharing on social media all the reasons why Northeast Louisiana is a great place to live, work and play. We are now recruiting community champions to join a growing group of Digital Neighbors. It’s easy to become part of this program- just click here to register your social media networks.

Once you have signed up, you will receive weekly emails with positive stories about our region. After viewing each email, you have the option to share ready-made content on your Twitter, Facebook and/or LinkedIn with a simple click of the “share now” button.

Cybersecurity Summit sponsored by CenturyLink

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As part of its efforts to create a world-class technology hub in Northeast Louisiana, CenturyLink is hosting “Connect and Protect 2017: A Cybersecurity Summit” on March 8th at its headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana. High-ranking government officials, senior CenturyLink executives and national cybersecurity experts will discuss how you can build a digital fortress for your organization during the day-long seminar.

Prominent names on the national cyber security scene such as Dr. Phyllis Schneck,

Former Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) and Steven Chabinsky, Global Chair of Data, Privacy and Cyber Security for White and Case, an international law firm, will speak. Chief Executive Officer and President of CenturyLink Glen F. Post, III, will also address the summit participants.

John Bel Edwards, Louisiana’s 56th Governor and Member of the National Governors Association’s Cybersecurity Policy Academy, will also deliver remarks at the first Cybersecurity Summit to be held in North Louisiana. Register Here>>>

Conserving Drinking Water in Union and Lincoln Parishes

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Union and Lincoln Parishes are working toward securing funding for a $100 million project to conserve the Sparta Aquifer, which provides drinking water for northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas. An aquifer is a body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit groundwater.

Over the past 50 years the Sparta Aquifer has been declining beneath the major pumping centers located in El Dorado and Magnolia, Arkansas and Hodge and Monroe, Louisiana as the rate of discharge exceeds the aquifer’s natural recharge rate.

In an effort to conserve the Sparta Aquifer, the Union-Lincoln Regional Water Supply Initiative (ULRWSI) is proposing a water treatment facility to reclaim water from Lake D’Arbonne and provide fresh water to Farmerville and Ruston, thus reducing the draw down on the Sparta.

ULRWSI is currently negotiating the purchase of 21.5 acres of land for a water treatment plant. ULRWSI’s mission is to eventually build a pipeline from Farmerville to Ruston and use treated water from Lake D’Arbonne as an alternative to the Sparta. The initiative will supply potable water to Farmerville and Ruston.

This massive project stands to benefit not only the potential water users in Ruston and Farmerville but everyone in North Louisiana who uses the Sparta. Hundreds of thousands of residents across northern Louisiana depend on the stressed aquifer for their water supply.

Currently, Lake D’Arbonne is not used as a potable water supply. Studies have shown that the water usage from the lake will have minimal impact on lake levels. Data from the last 10 years indicates water flows over the spillway on average nine months a year. Instead of losing this water, it can be converted to potable water for consumption thus protecting and conserving the Sparta Aquifer for future generations.

Ruston’s Vision for its Future Comes into Focus

Nestled in the piney hills of Lincoln Parish in Northeast Louisiana, the City of Ruston with a population of more than 22,000 is a small college town with big plans. Anchored by Louisiana Tech University, a National Tier 1 school with more than 12,500 students, Ruston is investing in its future. In April, Ruston voters approved a three-quarter cent sales tax to fund an $80 million master plan to upgrade and maintain its infrastructure and to enhance the quality of life for its residents.

As part of its Moving Ruston Forward initiative, the City plans to spend an estimated $1 million to develop biking and running trails through the city. The initiative got a big boost from PeopleForBikes, which awarded a $10,000 grant to Ruston to redevelop a former railroad right-a-way into a hiking and biking greenway. Similar projects elsewhere have proven transformational.

Selected from 205 applicants, the Rock Island Greenway project is a shared-use walking, running and bicycling path and linear park, spanning almost 6 miles across Ruston and connecting businesses, Louisiana Tech University, residential areas and recreational amenities.

“We are thrilled to receive this funding from PeopleForBikes and for their recognition of this project,” said Mayor Ronny Walker. “The grant validates the value of this project. The Rock Island Greenway will help to make Ruston a safer, healthier, and more appealing place to live for people of all ages and abilities for generations to come.”

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The city broke ground on the path in December and expects the first phase of the project, stretching from W. Kentucky Avenue south to the Interstate-20 service road, to be completed early next year. The grant will be used toward Phase 2 of the project, which extends approximately 2 miles between W. California and W. Tennessee Avenues through Ward 1. This greenway will be the first of its kind in North Louisiana.

Ruston’s master plan also calls for a $15 million sports complex, which boasts multiple ball fields, soccer and football areas, and a walking track. The ambitious master plan allows for future business growth with sewer, water, and road improvements along with attracting more families by adding new amenities and enhancing its quality of life assets.

Already, this small town has gained national attention on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as the home of Monster Moto, a manufacturer of youth-oriented recreational vehicles. Ruston was also recognized as a top retirement destination by “Where to Retire” magazine based on its low taxes and plentiful amenities that appeal to retirees. These successes demonstrate that no matter the size of the community, Ruston’s progressive leadership and vision for its future prove that “Excellence is Made Here.”

 

Northeast Louisiana Schools Make Notable Improvements in Performance

high-school-graduation-traditions-1Northeast Louisiana schools are earning top grades in the newest 2015-2016 Louisiana Department of Education Report Cards. The Ouachita Parish School System earned an A grade, ranking it 16th out of the 72 districts scored.  The district boosted its overall score from a 94.9 to 100.2. The school system also earned the maximum of 10 points for making progress with students who struggled academically. Other areas where Ouachita Schools exceeded state or national averages include:

  • End of course exams: 66% vs State Average of 61%
  • Students on track in LA Alternative Assessments*: 81% vs State Average of 78%
  • Average ACT score: 19.8 vs State Average of 19.3 or National Average of 19.7
  • Grads earning 18 or higher on ACT or Silver or higher on WorkKeys: 81% vs State Average of 75%
  • Graduating in 4 years with diploma: 84% vs State Average of 78% or National Average of 83%
  • Earning Tops-aligned dual enrollment credit: 24% vs State Average of 18%
  • Enrolling in college after graduation: 60% vs. State Average of 58%

Six of 13 Northeast Louisiana school districts raised performance scores by at least one letter grade. The East Carroll Parish School System showed the largest improvement, jumping two letter grades from a D to a B. Many school districts showed improvements in their overall district performance scores or individual performance metrics.

Lincoln Parish School District

The Lincoln Parish School System maintained its high B, moving up half a point to an overall score of 96. Both Choudrant High and Ruston High earned an A grade on their school report cards. Lincoln Schools earned 7.5 points for making progress with students who struggled academically.  Other areas where the Lincoln School District exceeded state or national averages include:

  • End of course exams:68% vs State Average of 61%
  • Students on track in LA Alternative Assessments*: 90% vs State Average of 78% (Average is even higher among Minority Students at 92%)
  • Average ACT score: 19.8 vs State Average of 19.3 or National Average of 19.7
  • Grads earning 18 or higher on ACT or Silver or higher on WorkKeys: 77% vs State Average of 75%
  • Graduating in 4 Years with diploma: 90% vs State Average of 78% or National Average of 83%
  • Graduates scoring 3+ on Advance Placement or 50+ on CLEP tests: 14% vs State Average of 8%
  • Earning Tops-aligned dual enrollment credit: 38% vs State Average of 18%
  • Enrolling in college after graduation: 63% vs. State Average of 58%

Union Parish School District

The Union Parish School District move up one letter grade to a C, jumping a whooping 23 percentage points to an overall score of 82.9. The school system also earned the maximum of 10 points for making progress with students who struggled academically. Other areas where Union Parish Schools exceeded state averages include:

  • Grads earning 18 or higher on ACT or Silver or higher on WorkKeys: 85% vs State Average of 75%
  • Graduating in 4 years with diploma: 79% vs State Average of 78%
  • Graduates scoring 3+ on Advance Placement or 50+ on CLEP tests: 12% vs State Average of 8%
  • Earning Tops-aligned dual enrollment credit: 22% vs State Average of 18%
  • Minority Students enrolling college after graduation: 60% vs State Average of 58%

City of Monroe School District

City of Monroe Schools showed notable improvement, moving up nearly 4 percentage points this year with an overall score of 73.8. Both J.S. Clark Magnet School and Neville High School earned an A on their school report card. Other areas where Monroe City Schools exceeded state averages include:

  • Students on track in LA Alternative Assessments*: 83% vs State Average of 78%
  • Graduates scoring 3+ on Advance Placement or 50+ on CLEP tests: 10% vs State Average of 8%
  • Earning Tops-aligned dual enrollment credit: 33% vs State Average of 18%
  • Enrolling in college after graduation: 61% vs. State Average of 58%

Morehouse Parish School District

Morehouse Magnet School in Bastrop earned an A grade with a school performance score of 113.1.  This school consistently overachieves, garnering national recognition as a Blue Ribbon School.

Another metric, where Morehouse Parish Schools beat the state average, is the number of minority students enrolling in college after graduation. Minority student enrollment in college is at 60% versus the state average of 58%.

Also, a much larger percentage of Morehouse students (82%) are on track in Louisiana Alternative Assessment (LAA1) versus the state average (78%). *LAA1 tests have been specially designed to evaluate the progress of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Northeast Louisiana’s Cost of Living Below National Average

Monroe, La. — Northeast Louisiana’s low cost of living means families can afford a higher standard of living. According to the Cost of Living Index recently released for the third quarter of 2016, the Monroe Metropolitan Statistical Area’s cost of living is 97.2 percent of the national average. The Monroe MSA includes surrounding communities in Ouachita and Union Parishes. The Cost of Living Index estimates the amount of money needed to sustain a certain level of living, including basic expenses such as housing, utilities, grocery items, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services.

“Our region’s low cost of living means families can get more bang for their buck,” said Scott Martinez, CEcD, President of North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP). “Families in the Monroe MSA can afford a better lifestyle. One of the biggest expenses for any family is housing; and our housing costs average nearly 12 points below the national average.”

For the Monroe MSA, the two most affordable cost categories are housing at 88.2 percent and transportation at 90.5 percent, followed by health care at 91.1 percent, utilities at 94.9 percent, grocery items at 95.1 percent, and miscellaneous goods and services at 109.6 percent of the national average.

The Cost of Living Index is compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research and measures regional differences in the cost of consumer goods and services. It is based on more than 90,000 prices collected during the same period by chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, and universities in participating urban areas.

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 (13.24%), housing (28.04%), utilities (10.31%), transportation (11.16%), health care (4.36%) and miscellaneous goods and services (32.89%).

The Cost of Living Index is often used when comparing how expensive it is to live in one city versus another. As you can see from the chart below, Northeast Louisiana is a much more affordable place to live as compared with competing metros. For example, the cost of living in Northeast Louisiana communities is more than 15 percentage points less than Denver, Colorado.

nela-coli

NLEP’s website provides a useful tool to help families compare the cost of living in Northeast Louisiana versus other communities in the U.S. Copy and paste nlep.org/COLIcalculator in your browser or go to http://www.nlep.org, click Regional Data Center, and go to Cost of Living to access our Cost of Living Calculator. It allows you to determine the level of income you would need to move to Monroe and maintain your current standard of living. For example, if you earned $50,000 in Denver, Colorado, you would only need to earn $42,420 in Monroe to have a comparable standard of living.