Businesses On the Grow
New projects, expansions fuel local business growth
During a time when industrial behemoths such as Monsanto and Formosa Petrochemical are making news with plant construction and expansions in south-central and western Louisiana, entrepreneurial businesses are flexing their muscle in the New Orleans area with growth plans and creative projects aimed at changing the local landscape.
Here is a look at several projects on the drawing boards or underway in the area.
Smoothie King Pours It On
Fast-growing beverage maker Smoothie King recently hired a new chief development officer to oversee the company’s expansion to 1,000 locations around the world. The Metairie-based company, currently operating about 790 stores, aims to open at least 100 more in the next year alone, according to a report by the New Orleans Advocate. The new stores will be a mix of company-owned and franchised locations and will include spaces inside hospitals, office buildings and airports, company officials said. International stores expected to open this year include locations in Dubai and Trinidad.
Founded in 1973 by Steve and Cindy Kuhnau, in 2012 Smoothie King’s owners sold a controlling interest in the Louisiana-based company to SK USA Inc., headed by CEO Wan Kim. As he continued to grow the company, Kim later purchased naming rights to the New Orleans Arena, which now is known as the Smoothie King Center.
Amenities for Lafitte Greenway
High-profile businessman and political rabble-rouser Sydney Torres IV has laid out plans for two new apartment buildings along a stretch of the Mid-City pedestrian park and bike path known as the Lafitte Greenway. His proposal for a 382-unit complex includes plans for ground-floor restaurants. Torres envisions two four-story buildings containing studio and two-bedroom units, along with parking garages, all to be built on land he owns along Bayou St. John. The apartments would include some “affordable” units aimed at satisfying the need for lower-income housing.
The project would require demolition of a building that formerly housed an office appliance and electric supplies warehouse.
Torres believes the development would enhance the three-mile greenway, and he hopes eventually to develop condos, retail spaces and a small movie theater nearby. The City Planning Commission in June gave the project a thumbs-up, with the City Council set to weigh in later.
Three poised for growth
New companies focused on the areas of education, health and housing recently received investments from a local business accelerator to help jump-start their growth. Whetstone Education and eNre each received $25,000 from Propeller, a New Orleans-based program that supports startups. Whetstone helps schools drive teacher growth by providing data-rich professional development products, and eNre uses software to streamline the recruiting of patients for clinic-based research trials, with emphasis on cancer and chronic diseases.
In addition, a nonprofit called Youth Rebuilding New Orleans received a $5,000 grant to advance its goal of buying blighted homes and marshalling young volunteers to help renovate the structures for later sale to teachers at a discounted price.
In all, Propeller saw 15 ventures graduate from its new Growth Accelerator program, which targets social ventures that offer solutions to issues involving food, water, health and education. Propeller has supported more than 100 social ventures over time, and this year partnered with Village Capital and the New Orleans Startup Fund to offer equity investment to three top participants selected through a peer-review process.
Elmer Sweetens its Impact
One of the region’s favorite mom-and-pop businesses flexed its muscle recently with a substantial expansion. Ponchatoula-based Elmer Chocolate completed a $40 million, 70,000-square-foot manufacturing plant addition that included new technology to improve production of its chocolates, caramels, truffles and crèmes.
The additions boost the size of Elmer’s headquarters and distribution facilities to about 400,000 square feet. It also will produce a 40 percent jump in jobs, to a total of 230 employees.
Elmer, which is the second-largest Valentine-box chocolate manufacturer in North America, is also well-known for its seasonal Gold Brick, Heavenly Hash and Pecan eggs.
Elmer Chocolate was founded in New Orleans as the Miller Candy Corp. in 1855. Roy Nelson bought the company from the Elmer family in 1963, and the third generation of Nelsons now runs the business. The company has operated in Ponchatoula since 1970.
Need a Room With That Flight?
The city and the New Orleans Aviation Board recently requested proposals from developers to build and operate a nationally branded hotel at a site adjacent to the new North Terminal being developed at Louis Armstrong International Airport. Envisioning a three-star hotel with at least 140 rooms, the city seeks a developer willing to sign a 30-year lease, make minimum revenue commitments and share concession sales with the city.
The Aviation Board has approved spending that could eventually total close to $1 billion including design and construction of the new 30-gate terminal, a 2,000-space parking garage and partial demolition of the current terminal. The city envisions the terminal work beginning in January and hopes to see both the terminal and a hotel opening by October 2018.
Along with locally based projects that are looking to grown outward, an out-of-state business recently announced that it will expand into New Orleans. Select Laboratory Software develops cloud-based medical software used in toxicology and clinical labs around the country. Based in North Carolina, the company says it will set up shop in New Orleans and expects to begin local hiring by the end of the year. At full capacity, the downtown office likely will employ 25 people.