Econcomic district director: Community comes first

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

VIDALIA — If Concordia Parish is going to grow, it needs to focus on community development.

And that is what Concordia Parish Industrial and Economic District Director Heather Malone said is her primary focus right now.

Malone became the CPIED’s director in August, and she has spent the time since then acquainting herself with the area’s leadership and goals and linking those goals with the aims of the development district.

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“If you don’t have a strong community, nobody is going to want to come,” Malone said. “My goal right now is to try to bring everybody together and try to have a good quality of life.”

Helping with the quality of life will mean different things to different communities.

That will mean taking an active role in the downtown revitalization effort in Ferriday, whether by helping them find funding or painting buildings, she said.

But in Ridgecrest, it might mean helping with their basic infrastructure needs such as streets and drainage, and in Clayton it might be as simple as helping them develop their recreation opportunities, Malone said.

In fact, she said she would like to work to see other recreation opportunities like an equestrian or livestock arena brought to the parish.

“Recreation isn’t just baseball, softball, soccer and football,” she said.

But that also means helping rural parts of the parish become destinations.

“Monterey is a diamond in the rough,” Malone said. “This whole area is a sportsman’s paradise, and I want to help keep Monterey, Monterey but bring people to the area.”

That could be done with some simple steps like adding cabins and repairing boat ramps.

“It’s something where you don’t really have to go out of town to enjoy yourself and get away,” she said.

A native of Concordia Parish, Malone said she could count on one hand the times she went to the Monterey area before moving back to take the director’s job.

“It’s a shame how many people don’t take that opportunity,” she said.

But economic development does mean grooming the parish for industry, and Malone said part of that would be getting the port of Vidalia built and getting involved with the El Camino corridor four-laning initiative.

“Transportation is the No. 1 key to any development,” she said.

Then, it also means marketing the already existing facilities.

“All of the necessary infrastructure is already at the (Vidalia) industrial park,” Malone said.

One of the big problems is that a lot of industries have time lines for opening that are too short for parish developers to meet.

“I see this list (about a prospective industry), and they say they want to open in January 2009,” she said. “In order to do that, you have to got have an existing building.”

The parish also needs to look at ways to rebuild a skilled workforce and foster entrepreneurship.

“Citizens have a desire and a drive to stay here,” Malone said. “Our goal is to retain and sustain existing businesses and help them grow if they want.”

One need that can be filled right away by someone willing to make the investment is to build houses — at least 30 middle-income units — in Vidalia, Malone said.

“Right now, if you wanted to come to Vidalia you couldn’t because there isn’t any housing,” she said.

The CPIEDD was created by house bill No. 2097, and its board consists of the mayors of the municipalities in the parish and three at-large members.

It is currently funded by an occupancy tax based on hotel-motel receipts in the parish.