Business news from around the state

Ongoing work by entrepreneurs and economic developers to build business statewide paid off this year with a rising public perception of Louisiana as a place to do business. Site Selection magazine placed the state at No. 9 on its annual list of states that have the best business climates. Louisiana ranked at No. 25 on the list a year earlier. The favorable publicity will come in handy as Louisiana approaches new business prospects in coming months.

Gas ignites north Louisiana economy
HAYNESVILLE –– The impact of the Haynesville Shale natural gas deposit that lies beneath local soil continues to reverberate through northwestern Louisiana. Construction of a new pipeline that will carry gas from the region to markets around the country wrapped up ahead of schedule. The 42-inch pipe eventually could carry 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day along a 175-mile route. Meanwhile, mineral rights acquisition activity remains vigorous in the region. In early November, Matador Resources Co. dominated the bidding at a regional lease sale, paying $6.2 million to lease almost 500 acres in Red River Parish.

New training ground
MONROE –– The recent opening of Delta Community College’s new $45 million campus on 70 acres in Monroe bodes well for the future of Louisiana’s work force. Built in just 14 months, the complex includes a 28,000-square-foot Advanced Technology Center and a 128,000-square-foot classroom building. The college has operated in multiple locations leased or borrowed from other entities since it opened in 2001, but it managed to gain accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The college enrolled close to 2,000 students this fall.

Spud spoken here
DELHI –– Food product manufacturer ConAgra Foods recently opened a sweet potato processing plant in Delhi, employing 275 workers and providing a lucrative market for area potato farmers for many years to come. ConAgra, based in Omaha, Neb., has plans for a second-phase expansion that would open another new plant by 2014. The company could hire an additional 250 workers at that time. The average annual salary at the recently opened plant is $35,000, the company says. A $37 million incentive package offered by the state helped lure ConAgra to northeastern Louisiana.

Will a deal fly?
BATON ROUGE –– At press time the chances of Louisiana landing a major new piece of business courtesy of a Kansas-based aircraft maker remained fuzzy, but state economic development officials have their fingers crossed that Wichita, Kan.-based Hawker Beechcraft will decide to relocate to Baton Rouge. The state has been wooing the private-jet maker for months, appealing to the company’s need to reduce costs in the face of a difficult market for business-class aircraft. The company’s unsuccessful negotiations with the International Association of Machinists appeared to boost the likelihood of a move. Hawker Beechcraft employs about 6,000 workers in Kansas and has said it plans to cut about 800 jobs in coming months. As the company struggles with a troubled market, all parties remain mum on the likelihood of a move to Louisiana.

Winning moves in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS –– Some of the biggest local development activity in decades is under way in New Orleans in the neighborhood of the Louisiana Superdome. Five years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and with $300 million of upgrades continuing at the Dome, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has invested millions more to reopen the next-door office tower –– recently renamed Benson Tower –– and has created an outdoor entertainment plaza called Champions Square adjacent to the tower, right outside the Dome. But that’s not all.

Also in the immediate vicinity, a $275 million renovation continues on the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, a 1,200-room hotel that has stood as a wounded icon and troubling reminder of Katrina for the past five years. New owners of the hotel are building 200,000 square feet of meeting space into the redesigned hotel and have committed to working closely with Superdome and New Orleans Arena management to market the Hyatt with its neighbors to groups looking to hold big meetings in New Orleans. With the hotel slated to open next year, the complementary projects are creating a new hub for conventions and entertainment at the upper end of Poydras Street at a time when New Orleans looks forward to hosting an impressive string of big sporting events. Along with the annual Allstate Sugar Bowl, the city in 2012 will welcome the BCS College Football Championship, the NCAA Men’s Final Four and three other top basketball events, followed in 2013 by Super Bowl XLVII.