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U.S. Dept of Commerce announces $2.1M investment in resiliency projects

31st August 2015   ·   0 Comments

By David T. Baker
Associate Editor

The U.S. Economic Development Administration announced last week that it will continue to support recovery in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, dedicating $2.1 million in grant funding to support and promote economic growth and resiliency in the region.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine made the announcement last Thursday at Propeller, a New Orleans-based business incubator. According to Erskine, the funding will be invested in four regional organizations working in innovation, entrepreneurship and resiliency planning.

One of the four organizations receiving funding is Propeller itself. The non-profit, business incubator will receive $300,000 of the total $2.1 million to support the growth of regional entrepreneurship through its Water Accelerator program.

Andrea Chen, co-founder and executive director at Propeller, said the incubator applied for the grant because of the growth they’d seen in the water cluster: “We had run a pilot program with Water Accelerator and our companies had tremendous traction.”

Chen says the new funding will be used to increase Propeller’s capacity to support its entrepreneurs.

“I think it’s a tremendous impact because it means we can continue and build upon and expand the work we’ve been doing. For the entrepreneurs, what that means is more resources, more technical assistance, we’ll be able to serve more entrepreneurs,” Chen said.

Last year, Propeller served 15 entrepreneurs in the full accelerator program. Chen says that starting in September they will increase that number to 30, with 15 being brought on In February 2016.

Propeller is one example of the EDA’s investment in the region. Since 2005, the EDA has invested more than $32 million in the greater South Louisiana region to fund projects that focused on rebuilding the regional area and strengthening its competitiveness.

The three other grant recipients are Capital Region Planning Commission, which will receive $1.15 million to support renovations to create a new Capital Region Operations and Resource Center that will serve as a regional disaster response and resiliency center; Idea Village, which will receive $400,000 to assist with the expansion of its Entrepreneur Season to provide increased technical assistance to New Orleans businesses including seminars and access to capital; and Laplace, LA, which will receive $250,000 to support a strategic plan and marketing study to determine the potential impact of building a new container terminal at the Port of South Louisiana.

The Economic Development Administration awarded funding based on the organizations’ alignment with their respective regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The New Orleans Regional Planning Commission identified coastal restoration and water management as two of the most promising emerging clusters for workforce development and bringing the region’s economy to the global market.

Erskine says a lot of the investment the EDA has made in Greater New Orleans has been focused on planning, and lauded the city for completion of the Resilience Strategy released just days before by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office.

“Resilience is a big deal for us,” Erskine said. “Economic resilience. Resilience to natural disasters, manmade disasters.”

“We put out a set of guidelines (CEDS) for communities to use as they do their strategic planning, and we’ve built into that very much a resilience component. We certify those plans, which often are the prerequisite for investment. They have to have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, how are you going to apply the investment effectively?

“For us, when we invest, we’re investing for the longterm so we want to make sure that, again, the partnership is sustainable, the partners around the table are bought in to the project and have the right plan and are following the right plan,” Erskine said.

While in town, Erskine also announced a partnership with Delta Regional Authority (DRA).

According to a press release sent out by the Dept. of Commerce, “EDA’s partnership with the Delta Regional Authority will deliver an economic resiliency training course for public officials and community stakeholders throughout the Delta region. The course will focus on training elected and public officials, and on-the-ground practitioners, to implement proactive strategies and strategic planning methods that will increase community capacity to plan for, contend with, and rebound from a disaster.”

Chris Masingill, Federal Co-chairman of the DRA, pointed to post-Katrina New Orleans as a good example of local leaders recognizing the need for improvements and strategies to deal with disaster response and preparedness.

“This program will help educate our local leadership on how to better plan for post-disaster resilience, preparing for that immediate recover phase that supports families, businesses, and communities in getting back to work.”

The training is also said to prepare public officials to deploy assistance for local businesses and industry to reduce damage from disasters when they do strike.

“To keep America competitive in the global economy, it is critical that communities hit by economic challenges are prepared to meet whatever obstacles lie ahead as they rebuild,” said Erskine.

You can follow news and updates from David T. Baker on Twitter at @Tadfly.

This article originally published in the August 31, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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