Last Modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 5:57 PM
JENNINGS — The prospects are bright for attracting new businesses and luring more people to Jefferson Davis Parish, according to the parish’s top economic development and tourism official.
Marion “Butch” Fox, executive director of the parish’s Economic Development and Tourist Commission, said there are opportunities for development around the 180-acre Lacassine Agri-Industrial Park. They include completion of the South Louisiana Rail Facility, construction of a rum distillery and the proposed 50,000-square-feet expansion of the Zagis cotton spinning plant.
The $28 million, 140,000-square-feet cotton spinning plant now provides 60 permanent jobs and processes 60 million pounds of cotton per year. Thirty jobs will be added with the expansion, which will increase production to 1 million pounds of yarn a week, Fox said.
Parish officials are also hoping to turn a failed sugar cane syrup mill in Lacassine into something positive for the parish.
“The Lacassine Agri-Industrial is in default, but the good news is that we have seven proposals from major companies who want to make it work and provide jobs,” Fox said. “We are excited about the potential. We need someone to come in and make the park successful.”
The Lacassine site is the only industrial park with two rail spurs between Houston to Florida, Fox said. The park also includes compacted limestone roads, water, utilities, a security fence, a scale and high-speed Internet.
Construction of the $4 million South Louisina Rail Facility at the industrial park is nearing its end.
The high-speed rail loading facility is expected to move 25,000 bushels of grain per hour when it opens later this summer.
“Our primary market is for rough rice to Mexico,” Fox said, noting that Mexico imported 15.4 million hundredweights of the grain last year.
The facility will provide area farmers the ability to export nearly 800 metric tons of rice, corn, soybeans, wheat and other agricultural commodities a year to Mexico, South America and other global markets.
The Louisiana Spirits Rum Distillery is being built on a 23-acre site near the industrial park.
Plans for the facility include a tourist information center, viewing room and tasting capabilities.
“This will raise the tourism level up a notch up because this will be a nice facility and it adds an additional experience to visitors off I-10,” Fox said.
The facility will use local molasses and sugar cane to produce rum and other products, she said.
Southern Inc., a 44,000-square-feet manufacturing facility which started with two products, has been expanded to produce a diverse of line of products that include sauces, salsas, roux and other seasonings.
“It is growing from a local brand to national and international markets,” she said.
The company was recently awarded a 2012 Lantern Award for Excellence from the Louisiana Economic Development Office. The award is presented to Louisiana businesses demonstrating excellence in manufacturing and community service.
BP Biofuels is considering the parish as the site of a $400 million commercial plant to produce 30 million gallons of alternative fuel annually. The company said the facility would create from 75 to 100 jobs.
The parish is participating in a five-parish regional housing study to determine the future housing needs of the area.
“I think we need a really nice apartment complex here, but we need to know what we have before anybody starts building so that we can show developers,” Fox said.
The Jefferson Davis Parish Tourist Commission is working to promote the area’s tourist attractions, including the Zigler Art Museum, Tupper General Store Museum, crawfish farm tours, local fly-ins and the scenic Flyway Byway trail.
Renovations are under way at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Park just off Interstate 10 in Jennings. The 30-acre park offers picnic areas, a playground, a walking path and an 11-acre lake for fishing. Visitors can also view and hold live alligators at the Gator Chateau.
More than 30,000 visitors registered at the Tourist Information Office and Gator Chateau last year. To date, more than 16,846 have visited this year.
“The certified tourist information specialists direct visitors to museums, restaurants, gas stations, retail outlets and other attractions around the parish,” Fox said.
The Tourist Commission spent more than $60,000 advertising local venues and has provided grants to local municipalities and organizations to help promote local events.
“Tourists in Jefferson Davis Parish spent $17 million, create 140 jobs and produce $400,000 in local taxes, according to the state tourist office,” Fox said.
Total expenditures for both the Tourist Commission and Economic Development Commission exceed $40,000 in signage, a canopy at the Gator Chateau, stocking the pond with carp, security system and staff who help maintain the park grounds.