Residents have mixed feelings on Louisiana Inc.

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2000

VIDALIA, La. – Many Concordia Parish businesspeople said Monday that they have not researched a proposal to privatize the state’s economic development department enough to form an opinion on the issue yet.

But opinions varied among those that have studied up on the proposed Louisiana Inc. proposal — constitutional amendment No. 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The measure would form a public-private partnership, Louisiana Inc., to replace the Department of Economic Development. Like DED, the new organization would have a $31 million budget. It would be run by a 16-member board, including the governor and his appointees.

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&uot;Privatization will allow the state to move quicker and be more competitive in seeking industries,&uot;&160;said Cliff Merritt, president of Louisiana Central Bank and the Vidalia Chamber of Commerce. &uot;Will it be perfect?&160;No … but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m inclined to vote for it.&uot;

&uot;I think that privatizing economic development might be a good way to go, … but I&160;think it needs to be reworded,&uot; said Chris Vaughan, co-owner of Vaughan’s City Drug and president of the Ferriday Chamber. &uot;The proposal would give the governor an awful lot of power (and) could result in political favoritism. I’ll vote against it.&uot;

Both Merritt and Vaughn stressed that their opinions are not those of either chamber. Neither chamber will endorse or speak out against the Louisiana Inc. proposal, they said.

Al Ater, a former state legislator and owner of Ater Farms, said he is against the proposal.

&uot;I have real concerns about turning taxpayers’ money over to a private enterprise that is not accountable to anybody,&uot; Ater said. &uot;And I&160;don’t know of any other state that is doing this, … so we don’t have a track record to go by.

&uot;Mississippi just landed a Nissan plant, and they don’t have a private organization&uot; for economic development, Ater added. &uot;I just don’t think this (Louisiana Inc.) proposal is very well thought-out.&uot;

Others said they have not studied the proposal in-depth but plan to do so in the next week.

Groups from which local businesspeople have requested information include the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

&uot;I haven’t really made up my mind up about it yet,&uot;&160;said Don Ater, owner of Ater Warehouse in Ferriday. &uot;I’m still in a fact-finding mode.&uot;

&uot;I’ve got to read more about it,&uot;&160;said Elwaine Smith, a partner with Wright Manufacturing of Ferriday. &uot;I really haven’t studied it enough yet.&uot;

Vaughan pointed out that even if the proposal does not pass, the existing department could still take measures to streamline the way it does business.

But Merritt said that the idea of privatization of economic development has been debated in Baton Rouge for several years and will probably be brought back up at a later date even if it fails Nov. 7.

&uot;We’re likely to see it again,&uot; Merritt said.