Since oil deposits were first discovered in Louisiana’s Acadiana Region in the early 20th century, the energy industry has dominated the local economy. Today, oil and gas remain central to Acadiana’s economy, but regional growth relies on other key sectors, such as software development, health care, bioinformatics, hospitality, entertainment and advanced manufacturing.
In December 2013, Bell Helicopter selected Lafayette, Acadiana’s largest city, as the site of a new assembly plant that will produce the company’s latest model, the Bell 505 JetRanger X helicopter.
Bell will assemble the helicopter in a new 82,300-square-foot manufacturing facility scheduled for completion in 2015 at the Lafayette Regional Airport. Just five months after that announcement, Bell Helicopter officials added another milestone: The company completed a new $4.5 million, 28,000-square-foot composites facility in the nearby Acadiana city of Broussard, where panels will be manufactured for the 505 JetRanger X and other new and aftermarket assembly sites.
Advanced manufacturing in the region frequently has been homegrown.
“We’ve got a lot of companies that are coming up with better ways of doing things,” says Rebecca Shirley, director of the Acadiana Economic Development Council. “They could have chosen to set up elsewhere, but they find a favorable, pro-business climate in Acadiana.”
Noble Plastics, an injection-molding firm in Grand Coteau, has grown continually since its 2000 launch. The company makes instruments of durable plastic instead of metal, saving time and money. Now, Noble Plastics has added robotic capabilities to create precision products for more customers. Automated processes can be installed on-site for national as well as local customers like Bell Helicopter.
“These are turnkey, customized integration services that we can offer to just about any industry, from food manufacturing to helicopters,” says Noble Plastics CEO Missy Rogers. “The products we produce are stronger, faster, lighter and more cost-effective for the client.”
Acadiana’s healthcare firms have developed solutions for nationwide professionals and institutions. The Schumacher Group is a leader in management systems for emergency rooms across the country. The company employs 1,688 people and works with 3,000 healthcare providers in 28 states.
Apex Innovations, another Acadiana healthcare firm, provides 3-D online tools to educate cardiovascular professionals. Tides Medical of Lafayette develops FDA-approved biologic and orthopedic products to speed healing after surgery or bone injuries.
Acadiana’s software sector is growing quickly, with the 2014 announcements of Canada-based CGI and Silicon Valley’s Enquero selecting Lafayette for major technology centers. The growth is supported by a strong technology infrastructure that includes the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Computing and Informatics.
In 2014, the State of Louisiana announced a $4.5 million investment over 10 years led by the university that will result in tripling the number of graduates in computer science, computer engineering and information studies, a key component of meeting regional workforce needs.