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|Unions are good for something|
Back in the summer of 2006, then-Congressman Bobby Jindal sat in the living room at a supporter's home in Monroe and pledged to do everything he could to improve the economic environment in north Louisiana if he was elected governor.
Jindal repeated that pledge over and over throughout the gubernatorial campaign in 2007. He obviously recognized the region needed help in light of Guide Corp. and State Farm closing shop here. International Paper's decision to close its Bastrop mill would come later.
Flash forward to earlier this week.
Jindal showed he's serious about improving the economy in God's country when he paid another visit to north Louisiana to announce the expansion of an existing business, Gardner Denver Thomas. The company, which makes vacuum pumps, currently employs about 70 people here. It will abandon its presence in Wisconsin and consolidate its operations at its plant on Central Avenue near Monroe Regional Airport. The consolidated operation is expected to create some 500 direct and indirect jobs over the next few years. They're good paying jobs.
About one month ago, the Jindal administration led the charge to help Foster Farms buy a chicken processing plant from Pilgrim's Pride in Union Parish. At stake were some 1,300 direct jobs and the economic prospects for some 300 people who raise chickens for a living. The jobs would disappear if Pilgrim's Pride shuttered the Union Parish plant as part of a bankruptcy filing.
Though the Foster Farms deal isn't set in stone, it will be once the Legislature signs off on it during the regular legislative session. The regular session begins later this month.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Jindal dropped by the Monroe Chamber of Commerce to announce a new call center would open for business in the old Montgomery Ward building off Oliver Road in Midtown Monroe. Though the folks who work at call centers don't make a great deal of money, news of a new employer locating in northeast Louisiana was welcome news.
It was welcome news like it was welcome news when Accent Marketing chose a couple of years ago to open a call center concern in the old State Farm office building off Interstate 20. And it was good news as well when the city of West Monroe announced recently that a call center would begin operations in the city's new industrial park near the Ike Hamilton Expo Center off I-20.
When word surfaced that Gardner Denver Thomas was considering closing its plant in Wisconsin and consolidating in Monroe, it was difficult to locate anyone who gave Monroe a chance in doing the deal. Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and his economic development director, Dr. Dwight Vines, were optimistic, but they literally represented the only voices of optimism locally. Cautiously optimistic would be a better description.
Obviously Mayo and Vines knew what most of us didn't know -- the Jindal administration was hip deep in doing everything it could to help convince Gardner Denver to consolidate in Monroe.
There's no doubt that the state's pledge to put $9 million on the table to help Gardner Denver move its operations to Louisiana was the deal-maker. It certainly helped matters, too, that the city of Monroe agreed to underwrite the construction of a 125,000-square-foot expanded facility. It was helpful as well that the state will give Delta Community College a tidy sum of cash to offer courses to train people to work at Gardner Denver, and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce's help in conducting a study to show Gardner Denver a viable workforce was available here was a plus, too.
While all of the players involved did what they needed to do to secure much-needed jobs for north Louisiana, we shouldn't dismiss the obvious, or the reality of it all.
The reality is Gardner Denver Thomas probably would have never entertained a move to Monroe had it not been for the problems the company encountered with the union that represents Gardner Denver's employees at its Wisconsin plant. From most accounts, the union dragged its feet in helping Gardner Denver cope with a downturn amid a global recession. Now those union jobs will disappear.
And Monroe will benefit from it thanks to an environment in which unions don't flourish and labor is cheap.
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