It wasn’t so long ago that Louisiana’s economy seemed something of a one-trick pony. The state’s life blood was oil, and drillers, producers and service companies long dominated the ranks of Louisiana’s employers, with other industries playing a secondary role. But efforts to diversify the economy are gradually paying off with growth in maritime commerce, health care, tourism and technology, among other fields.

Cane yields sweet returns
PLAQUEMINE – New uses for sugar cane waste could result from a proposed $312 million investment by NFR BioEnergy to install biorefineries at more than 10 sugar refining hubs in south Louisiana. The company aims to convert the processing waste product called bagasse into hardened energy pellets for use as fuel at power plants around the world. The first Louisiana biorefinery, under development in White Castle, could become the new headquarters of NFR, which now is based in New York. The company, which is still completing  agreements with sugar mills in the state, projects the biorefineries could employ 450 people by 2020.

Buzzed for games
NEW ORLEANS – The Crescent City has become home to the first “branch” studio of Chicago-based game developer High Voltage Software Inc. HVS NOLA opened its doors on St. Charles Avenue in December and immediately began hiring to fill about 80 jobs. The 21-year-old developer, whose capabilities include motion-capture animation, full audio production and game design for digital, console and mobile platforms, has a portfolio of nearly 100 games. The opening follows by a few years the opening of a local studio by global developer Gameloft and a location in Baton Rouge by videogame giant Electronic Arts.

Gearing up
BATON ROUGE – A new local company expects to grow on the need or protective gear for health care workers who care for people with contagious diseases such as Ebola. Convergence Equity partnered with medical materials company TillaMed to provide level three-certified, Ebola-resistant gear to U.S. government agencies and health providers around the world. Convergence, which contracted to deliver 350,000 protective suits and additional gear as needed, is a spinoff from a previous company that handled protective suits for workers after the BP oil spill in 2010.

Home-grown firms expand
PONCHATOULA – The growth of New Orleans-based packaging supplies maker J&M Industries is spinning benefits to Ponchatoula, where the company will expand its tarp manufacturing plant via a $4.5 million investment. Thirty new jobs will result, on top of the 100 positions already at the site. The local area also will get a boost from a $40 million expansion of the Elmer Chocolate facility, which is adding 70,000 square feet to its operation.

Chemicals fuel growth
LULING – Manufacturing expansion along the lower Mississippi River corridor continues with an announcement by Momentive Specialty Chemicals Inc. that it will build a new production facility in Luling and upgrade an existing plant in Geismar. The company says its $60 million investment will boost production of formaldehyde that other nearby plants will use in the making of various products. The expanded Geismar plant should begin operating late this year, and the Luling facility may start up in early 2016.

Gambling on gas
LAKE CHARLES – The potential for growth in natural gas exporting continues to spark activity in southwestern Louisiana, where Venture Global LNG is building a $4.25 billion plant to convert gas into a form that can be easily exported. About 100 permanent jobs will result from the project. Local workers will find plenty of entertainment nearby as a new $700 million Golden Nugget casino recently opened. In addition to gaming space, restaurants and a 740-room hotel, the resort will include a beach, an 18-hole golf course and a marina that will accommodate vessels up to 200 feet long. The casino is a neighbor of L’Auberge Casino Resort and a boardwalk between the two eventually will make for an easy stroll from one establishment to the other.

Shoppers get new destination
BOSSIER CITY – New retail offerings are on tap for shoppers as the new Kroger Marketplace takes shape on Airline Drive. The 120,000-square-foot store will be the first of its kind in Louisiana and will include not only food, but small appliances, apparel, linens, jewelry and fresh flowers. The store will stand among other new additions that will include Hobby Lobby, Panera Bread and Panda Express. Kroger Marketplace is slated to open later this year.