In September 2015, when Yuhuang Chemical broke ground on a $1.85 billion methanol complex in Louisiana, company CEO Charlie Yao touched upon a truism: Quality sites make successful projects.
“Yuhuang Chemical Inc. selected Louisiana for our project for a number of reasons: Outstanding selection of greenfields for large development, working with the team at LED and the incentives the state offered, the supportive community in St. James Parish, and a business-friendly environment ultimately made our decision straightforward,” he said.
That Yao singled out sites first is no accident. Louisiana Economic Development officials presented the company with a number of location options that led to a 1,300-acre site with critical access to the Mississippi River, a major pipeline and a Class I railroad — all keys to making a global chemical project successful.
To repeat that recipe for success, LED continues to refine the quality and quantity of its sites statewide. In 2009, LED instituted an innovative program to formally evaluate and certify industrial sites, thereby increasing confidence about available land in Louisiana among companies and site selection consultants. To date, 57 sites of at least 25 contiguous acres have been certified statewide. The sites are catalogued and available for quick review on LED’s website, OpportunityLouisiana.com/sites. Through a partnership with Entergy Corp., access to nearly 1,000 additional business and industry sites across Louisiana is available on the website.
LED officials developed the Certified Sites program to accentuate Louisiana’s site selection advantage. The formal mechanism vets parcels for industrial investment. Incorporated into each site evaluation are best practices nationwide; the needs of buyers; and environmental considerations, including soil, rock and groundwater conditions. Landowners now have a specific process in place for ensuring their holdings fit a corporate buyer’s requirements, while companies and site selection consultants can confidently consider multiple certified sites.
Sites are certified through an exhaustive review process conducted by LED and AECOM, a third-party engineering firm with extensive experience in Louisiana. Certification not only reduces buyer risk, but it also helps keep construction schedules on time and on budget.
Some states with certification programs limit their focus to a site’s marketability, but the LED Certified Sites program weighs geologic factors that impact construction and, thus, the bottom line. Louisiana’s certification is directly aligned with the documented needs of industrial manufacturers.
Those needs include a current Phase I environmental assessment, wetlands and stream delineation, a topographic survey, 100/500-year floodplain designation, geotechnical investigation, cultural resources and endangered species designations, railroad and roadway accessibility, and easements for utility and oil and gas well pipelines.
The program’s rigor builds confidence among site selectors and buyers but can result in substantial costs for landowners seeking to achieve certification. In 2012, LED officials addressed the issue through the creation of a funding assistance program. Funds are available to site owners, managers and regional economic development organizations for action items needed to qualify for site certification. LED provides a 75 percent match to landowners for costs of site improvement work, engineering surveys and other due diligence items that help them meet program requirements.
The funding assistance program is a rare component among state economic development agencies, and it has greatly accelerated landowner participation. The number of certified sites has tripled since the program was established.
Companies have responded favorably to the program. Several certified sites have been sold to expanding manufacturers and businesses, and the state continues to expand inventory, creating a larger selection of acreage with real advantages. Extensive details are available on each site.
The LED website features aerial shots and quick data on acreage, location and distances to major infrastructure assets, including interstate, highway, rail, airport and ports.