Versa Clark: Home-grown business


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Recently I watched a video of local economic development representatives with sincere concerns about how to move the area forward via economic development strategies. Regionally, healthcare has been the fastest growing industry, providing great opportunities for some specialized medical careers. The panel spoke briefly about other Amazon-like developments requiring sweetening tax incentives and other inducements to attract those businesses/industries to the area. What I did not hear was how much advantage we could take of local resources to develop homegrown businesses/industries.

A few years ago before Covid hit the area; We were working hard to get the Industrial Hemp industry up and running. This is what I would call an ideal homegrown business/industry. Louisiana’s land is excellent for the growth of this bast fiber plant because the soil is not only rich in nitrogen but is also non-acidic and the soil can be designed to be well-drained, all necessary for a successful venture. Processing plants can be located very close to farmers, which will reduce the cost of transporting the harvested crops. Manufacturing plants can be located near urban centers that have good transportation systems for workers. At present, there are over 50,000 uses of the plant/fiber and if you have access to a research university, more uses (patents) could be developed for all kinds of consumer products.

Hemp has been used as clothing fiber for at least 10,000 years. Hemp is one of the strongest and most durable of all fibers; it holds its shape well, and it does not require herbicides or pesticides to produce. It is also antimicrobial to protect your skin better and is ideal for medical scrubs.

Hemp-based building materials are often stronger than petroleum-based products. Building materials made from hemp core fiber include plastics, fiberboard, wallboard, roofing tiles, insulation, paneling and even bricks.

Plastics made from hemp and other organics are non-toxic and biodegradable. The reason why virtually all European car makers are switching to hemp-based door panels, columns, seat backs, boot linings, floor consoles, instrument panels, and other external components is that the hemp-based products are lighter, safer in accidents, recyclable , and more durable.

Another homegrown business/industry would be the manufacture of Solar-Powered Street lights. The Umbrella Coalition, a collection of neighborhood associations, has been working on a proposal to manufacture (locally) solar-powered street lights. The idea was pushed forward after the passage of Proposition One (Public Safety) of the 2021 Bond Proposal. At the bottom of the list was $5 million for street lights, a bit deceptive because it was for cameras/sensors as part of the crime prevention strategy. The Umbrella’s proposal has job creation, cost saving (electric bills for the city), and crime prevention as its major goals.

Job creation is not too difficult considering you have unused space at several existing facilities (GE & GM), a trainable workforce and the ability to obtain the technology to do the manufacturing and the ongoing research (La. Tech) to continue improvements in the products , like battery life and LED lights longevity. The lights could be installed city-wide generating large savings on the cost of electricity. Crime prevention would become easier because the poles that the street lights are on belong to the city and therefore any sensors/cameras that the city’s crime prevention team wants to install can be done so with fewer questions asked.

Because this proposal is aligned with Gov. John Bel Edwards’s Climate Action Plan’s recommendation for clean energy transition, it should be given a reasonable viewing and consideration.

Versa Clark:How can Shreveport’s Black middle class take advantage of Build Back Better?

Minority business development could be another homegrown business/industry. This can be accomplished through the newly established Roy Griggs School of Business at SUSLA. By designing an aggressive internship/apprenticeship-based curriculum that would involve partnering with the Shreveport Bossier African American Chamber (SBAAC), MSI (Minority Supplier Institute), Caddo Parish Schools (Booker T. Washington HS), and the City of Shreveport Economic Development department, it would give the program a better chance of success.

The SBAAC could target and recruit existing successful businesses that will volunteer to be the source of the internship/apprenticeship program and may request the assistance from the Greater Shreveport Chamber to obtain the necessary volunteers. MSI can achieve many of its goals by partnering with SBAAC during business development and more after the businesses are established.

By establishing an AP Business Curriculum at Booker T. Washington HS, the program would give potential students of the Griggs Business School an opportunity for not only understanding business acumen, but also acquiring college credits that can be applied to an Associate degree in Business Administration/ Business Management.

The City of Shreveport Economic Development department’s role would have been made easier had the Build Back Better legislation been passed. In the BBB legislation, President Biden wanted to launch a special, ongoing initiative to empower Black, Latino, AAPI, and Native American entrepreneurs to succeed and grow with a three-prong Small Business Opportunity Plan. Initially the plan was to spur more than $50 billion in additional public-private venture capital to Black and Brown entrepreneurs by funding successful state and local investment initiatives and making permanent the highly effective New Markets Tax Credits.


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