Decades of economic development leadership on the way out in Louisiana

With the retirement of Michael Olivier from the Louisiana Committee of 100 for Economic Development and the term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards leaving office January 8, 2024, economic development in Louisiana won’t look quite the same if it is assumed that current Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson will ride off into the sunset with Edwards.

I spent lots of time with Pierson at the Rural South Economic Development Summit in Cleveland, Miss. that we put on in August. He is not done working and you will hear about what he moves on to soon.

Olivier was appointed Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development under the late Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was at the helm when Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana and its economy in August and September of 2005.

Gov. Bobby Jindal was governor in between Blanco and Edwards. Jindal appointed Stephen Moret Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development and Moret ran things for most of Jindal’s two terms.

I first met Olivier in 1992 when he was Executive Director of the Harrison County Development Commission in Gulfport, Miss. It was an exciting time.

For me, I had just sold all of my local business publications in Birmingham, Ala., and was searching for my next entrepreneurial publishing venture. I wanted and planned to create a Southern Forbes, a general-reach business publication covering the South.

I had already struck up a relationship with the Forbes CEO at the time, Steve Forbes. I told Steve Forbes my idea and if he wanted to invest in it and he said, “Mike, I don’t have the time. You would not believe what I am about to do.” He ran for President of the United States.

So, I started traveling the South with my new idea, meeting with business types such as CEOs of companies and those in economic development. I met with Olivier and explained that a “Southern Forbes” was probably out of my reach financially. He immediately responded, “Well, do an economic development magazine about the South and send it to company CEOs up North. That is where each of us in the South gets our prospects, anyway.”

“Brilliant,” I thought. So, Southern Business & Development was born that day in 1992. In other words, SB&D and its marketing angle, was created. It was Olivier’s idea, not mine.

Olivier went on to become Louisiana Economic Development Secretary and then CEO of the Louisiana Committee of 100.

Don Pierson was No. 2 to Olivier and was named Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development in the John Bel Edwards era. Both men have done extraordinary jobs as leaders of economic development in Louisiana for decades.

The Louisiana economy has always relied on oil and gas and so many things that are born from that elixir of compounds and feed stock, such as LNG.

Deals like Cheniere Energy’s multi-billion-dollar LNG export facility in Southwest Louisiana where George Swift operates, almost became commonplace during Olivier’s, Moret’s and Pierson’s tenures. The Pelican State will miss your leadership, I am sure.

It is a beachhead! Electric vehicle projects announced in the South are everywhere!

By Michael Randle

President Joe Biden’s chief economic advisor met with Nashville community leaders last quarter to tout federal investments in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing and technology.

Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said the combined impact of Biden economic initiatives since 2021 spurred $15 billion in private investment across Tennessee. “Tennessee’s a great example of the president’s economic plan in action – attract private investment and create regional industrial hubs, including in Tennessee, for high-wage, high growth industries of the future,” Rouse said. “In 2021, Tennessee’s overall economy grew 9 percent in real terms − the fastest rate in four decades. In the first three quarters of 2022, Tennessee’s GDP grew more than 2 percentage points faster than that of the U.S. economy as a whole.” – The Tennessean

But it is not just Tennessee that has seen monumental gains from the next generation electric vehicle industry. Almost every state in the South – specifically its rural regions – has seen the same gains (some more than others) since the end of 2020. In fact, our tally of electric vehicle and EV-related projects totals more than $286 billion (that’s with a “B”) since January 1, 2021.

Let’s take a broad look at what this new industry has created in jobs and where in the South to date they have been announced. Of course, these are announcements, and about 38 percent of the projects have actually begun hiring as of the spring quarter of 2023. Yet several, including both Ford EV projects in Kentucky and Tennessee, are well under construction, including some suppliers to those two massive facilities.

Spring 2023

Ascend Elements – 100 jobs – Covington, Ga. – Lithium-ion recycling

Microvast – 562 jobs – Hopkinsville, Ky. – EV parts

6K Energy – 230 jobs – Jackson, Tenn. – EV battery materials

Rivian – 218 jobs – Bullitt County, Ky. – EV parts


Winter 2023

Toyota Boshoku – 157 jobs – Hopkinsville, Ky. – EV parts

Albemarle – 300 jobs – Chester County, S.C. – EV parts

Cirba Solutions – 300 jobs – Richland County, S.C. – EV parts

Microvast – 290 jobs – Clarksville, Tenn. – EV batteries

PHA – 400 jobs – Chatham County, Ga. – EV parts

Seoyon E-HWA – 740 jobs – Chatham County, Ga. – EV parts

Samkee – 170 jobs – Tuskegee, Ala. – EV parts


Fall 2022

Hyundai Mobis – 400 jobs – Montgomery, Ala. – EV battery parts

Hyundai and SK – 3,500 jobs – Bartow County, Ga. – EV batteries

Hyundai Mobis – 1,500 jobs – Bryan County, Ga. – EV parts

FREYR Battery – 723 jobs – Coweta County, Ga. – EV batteries

Joon Georgia – 630 jobs – Bulloch County, Ga. – EV parts

Canoo – 500 jobs – Oklahoma City, Okla. – Electric vehicles


Summer 2022

Toyota – 1,500 jobs – Randolph County, N.C. – EV batteries

Mercedes- Benz – 1,000 jobs – Tuscaloosa County, Ala. – Electric vehicles

Ascend Elements – 400 jobs – Hopkinsville, Ky. – EV parts

Bosch – 350 jobs – Anderson, S.C. – EV fuel cells

Nippon Denkai – 100 jobs – Augusta, Ga. – EV parts


Spring 2022

Hyundai – 8,100 jobs – Bryan County, Ga. – Electric vehicles

Envision AESC – 2,000 jobs – Bowling Green, Ky. – EV batteries

Hyundai – 300 jobs – Montgomery, Ala. – Electric vehicles


Winter 2022

Vinfast – 7,500 jobs – Chatham County, N.C. – Electric vehicles

GreenPower Motor – 900 jobs – Charleston, W.Va. – Electric buses

Envirotech – 800 jobs – Osceola, Ark. – Electric trucks

Aspen Aerogels – 250 jobs – Bulloch County, Ga. – EV parts

Alkegen – 250 jobs – Irving, Texas – EV parts

Proterra – 200 jobs – Spartanburg, S.C. – Electric buses

Arrival – 150 jobs – Charlotte, N.C. EV parts


Fall 2021

Ford and SK – 6,000 jobs – Stanton, Tenn. – Electric vehicles and batteries

Ford and SK – 5,000 jobs – Glendale, Ky. – EV batteries

Mercedes-Benz – 600 jobs – Tuscaloosa County, Ala. – Electric vehicles

Rivian – 7,500 jobs – Morgan, Walton Counties, Ga. – Electric vehicles and batteries

GM and Ultium Cells – 1,300 jobs – Spring Hill, Tenn. – Electric vehicles and batteries

NOVONIX – 300 jobs – Chattanooga, Tenn. – EV batteries

Canoo – 1,000 jobs – Pryor, Okla. – EV battery parts

Oshkosh Defense – 1,000 jobs – Spartanburg, S.C. – Electric vehicles

Volvo – N/A – Berkeley County, S.C. – Electric vehicles


Spring 2021

Duckyang – 285 jobs – Braselton, Ga. – EV parts

Mullen Technologies – 400 jobs – Memphis, Tenn. – EV parts


Winter 2021

Tesla – 5,000 jobs – Austin, Texas – Electric vehicles

Hitachi Automotive – 200 jobs – Berea, Ky. – EV parts

Microvast – 287 jobs – Clarksville, Tenn. – EV batteries

Southern Business & Development’s take: Southern Living’s “The South’s Best Cities of 2023”

By Michael Randle

You know the drill, right? Some media property publishes the “Best Of” series and Southern Living followed the crowd recently with its “South’s Best Cities of 2023.” Knowing Southern Living’s history, though, their piece, “The South’s Best Cities,” was most likely the first ranking of its kind back in the day.

When it comes to the South’s lifestyle stories, then and now, Southern Living was what you read. Now, there is Charleston-based Garden & Gun.

Southern Living is a Birmingham, Ala.-based publishing business, founded by Emory Orgustus Cunningham in 1966. Progressive Farmer was the publication that helped launch Southern Living. Progressive Farmer was first published in 1886.

Progressive Farmer is among the oldest and most widely read of the nation’s agricultural periodicals. The history of the publication reflects dramatic changes in Southern rural life and journalism. The paper was founded in Winston (now Winston-Salem, N.C.) in February 1886 by Leonidas L. Polk, a former Confederate officer and North Carolina commissioner of agriculture.

Southern Living has been owned by several different companies, such as Southern Progress and Time, Inc., when that conglomerate bought all of Southern Living’s media assets in 1985, including titles such as Cooking Light, Health and Coastal Living. Southern Living is now owned by IAC’s Dotdash Meredith.

Here is an excerpt of an article written and published by the New York Times when Emory Cunningham, the founder of Southern Living, died in Birmingham in January of 2000.

“Emory Orgustus Cunningham, a publishing executive who served up recipes for sweet potato pie and a rosy view of a new suburban South emerging from the region’s rural poverty and decades of racial strife, died of pneumonia on Monday in Birmingham, Ala., where he lived. He was 78.

“Mr. Cunningham launched his Martha Stewart-like vision of a glossy new Dixie in 1966 in a magazine called Southern Living. Its circulation grew from an initial 200,000 to 2.5 million.

“The magazine was acquired, with its sister publications, by Time Inc. in 1985. At the time, the price was the largest ever paid for a publishing company.” — New York Times, January 28, 2000.

Okay, so that’s enough about Southern Living’s history, which is a noted one. Let’s get back to the publication’s “The South’s Best Cities of 2023.”

On the list are the modern-day standards, you know, successful Southern MSAs that are great places to live, work and operate a business.

Richmond, Va., the old-line, blue-blood of the group, came in 20th place, or at the end of Southern Living’s ranking. Richmond was followed by Bentonville, Ark., at 19, which is growing its own Southern blue-blood population base since it is home to Walmart and much of the Walton family.

Huntsville, Ala. made Southern Living’s “Best Cities” in the South list, as did Dallas, Fort Worth, Orlando, Charlotte, Raleigh and Austin. Okay, you get it, right? Just another list of cities that readers kind of go, “Well, we’ve read that before.”

What impressed us? Birmingham, Alpharetta, Ga., Chattanooga, Greenville, S.C., and New Orleans ranked in the top 10 of the media property’s list.

Then the usual boilerplate rankings appeared. You know Nashville, Atlanta (how can any author list “Alpharetta, Ga.” – an Atlanta suburb – and “Atlanta” on the same list?). Then there was Asheville, followed by Savannah and Charleston at No. 2 and No. 1, respectively.

The North Charleston-Charleston, S.C., MSA and the Savannah MSA are rocking with huge economic development announcements such as Hyundai, Volvo, Boeing and the like. But to Southern Living, I guess they were just looking at pretty places. It’s always about the methodology, right?

Here is a sample of what was published in Southern Living in their latest “The South’s Best Cities of 2023.”

“Set your sights on these cities, and you’ll be in for a trip filled with the best museums, restaurants, shopping districts, and parks the region has to offer. Pack your bags and embark on a trip to one (or all!) of these treasured communities. You simply can’t go wrong with a trip to one of the South’s best cities.”

How a reduced population can devastate a nation’s economy

By Michael Randle

The world’s most populous country – China – has now learned what other countries have experienced over the last decade or so; a population decline of massive proportions. Just about every developed country is going through this reduction in people; residents.

China’s population was slammed dramatically after decades of the one-child policy to reduce population gains; years-long decline in births. We have been to China. No one we spoke to agree with the one-child policy. That policy was loosened a few years back.

It’s economy, however, is now suffering. In 2022, 9.56 million births were recorded in China; 10.4 million people died and that does not include those who retired from the workforce, which estimates range from 40 million to 60 million a year currently.

The U.S. is in the same boat. Every day, on average, over 10,000 people retire in this country. Only about 700 turn working age, according to the federal government, each day. That’s a loss of more than 9,000 from the workforce on any given day in the U.S.

So, why is this important? It’s simple and we caught it and understood it in 2013. Demography is the greatest indicator of a growing or slowing economy. The more people in the workforce, the larger the labor shed, the larger the tax shed and without a growing population, nations’ economies have few answers on how to grow.

Then again, it’s not a really bad thing if government officials recognize the population shifts. Most of the European countries have seen population declines for a long time. Yet, they adjusted their economies to such. The U.S. and China’s economies remain based on GDP growth. Not so much in Europe.

You see, here is the rub. Both China and the U.S. base their nation’s budgets on the previous generation when it comes to taxes, etc., for taking care of their parents, grandparents and their lives at old age. With a declining population, how is that model going to work? It won’t.

How do you solve the problem? That issue is also very simple. The U.S. as well as China – the two largest economies in the world — need to incorporate a legitimate immigration policy where those who come here or there are welcomed, vetted, and are immediately placed into the workforce because that is why, for the most part, they are coming here in the first place. With birth rates at all-time lows in both countries, there are no other solutions.

Look, you can blame whoever you want for the surge in migrants to the U.S. Southern border. Yet, you should put the blame on those who made them migrants or refugees in the first place in their previous countries. Those folks just want a better life. With the proper vetting, we need them so much to add to our labor force. It’s not political. It’s just math.

“Southern Innuendo Stew”

By Michael Randle

I write all the time that the phrase “The New South” is 40 years old, but the media — especially the standard Asian media business model and business news reported by CNN, CNBC, Fox, whatever — LOVES to continue labeling the South as “The New South.”

I assume that when people describe the vibrant and beloved southern region of the U.S.—particularly writers who have never set foot in the South – presume that we are still a backwater like that of the mid-1800s to, say, the 1950s.

FYI, there ain’t no more “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It is not a tourist attraction here in the region. It was an anti-slavery novel written by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in two volumes in 1852.

“The New South” and its economy emerged and blew away the entire world in 1972, or at least by 1982. Get it right, or do not write it.

“The New South?” Really? Apparently y’all have never been to Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, much less monster economies like Atlanta, Northern Virginia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and other mega-economies like Tampa Bay and South Florida in the region.

And let’s not forget the mid-major economies in the South such as Birmingham, Greenville, Louisville, Raleigh, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Richmond and New Orleans, among many more in the region. Throw in a few dynamo small markets like Huntsville, the Space Coast in Florida and Charleston, S.C. and it is easy to understand that the South’s economy is a mile wide and a mile deep. Those metros and others lead the nation in so many economic categories.

So, when, really, did “The New South” emerge? Try the early 1960s when the Atlanta airport became the first mega-airline hub in America. That was the first “New South” thingy. That was exactly 60 years ago.

Change the dang headline to “The South Rules the World” when it comes to economic development and a generational change in the worldwide economy. I cannot hear or be introduced at a speech again with the phrase “The New South.”

The American South (not “The New South”) is the third largest economy in the world based on GDP, double that of the Midwest’s, only behind the U.S. and China’s gross product by value.

Hear that Notre Dame, you Michigan toothy mammals that no one has ever seen and what the hell is a “Buckeye; a badger?”

We don’t have badgers down here, but we have ‘gators, snakes, bullfrogs, giant snapping turtles and ‘possums. They are so yummy, especially in what I call, “Southern Innuendo Stew.” Goes great with poke salad and a Grapico!

So, let’s get the data right and retire the phrase “The New South” one more time for once and for all. The 13-state southern region has been besting all of the other three regions in the U.S. in GDP and positive demographics for decades. We have earned the phrase, “The Economic Engine of the United States.”

That’s The Randle Report For April 21, 2023

Join us again tomorrow for all of the American South’s business, economic development and political news in real time and in one place. Use the sort buttons or the search window to find any story you need to find from last week, last month, last year or several years ago. Click on the headline above to access Southern Business & Development’s website, the economic development magazine of the American South; the third largest economy in the world.

In rural Alabama, a test for talent-driven economic development

The 60 finalists for the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) represent a new source of insights around inclusive economic development. In this new era of federal support for place-based industrial strategy, the BBBRC is one of the first occasions in which state and local actors are equally prioritizing economic growth and equity. This piece highlights one notable BBBRC finalist: Driving Regional Innovation through Vehicle Electrification (DRIVE). Submitted by a University of Alabama-led coalition, DRIVE sets out big goals, including revitalizing Alabama’s rural communities, providing pathways to good jobs, and supporting a vibrant electric vehicle manufacturing ecosystem. And it stands out for emphasizing education and training as crucial means to reach those goals.

$114M Knoxville stadium agreement signed by Smokies owner Randy Boyd

The Knoxville-Knox County Sports Authority and Smokies’ owner Randy Boyd have signed an agreement outlining the development and construction of the $114 million downtown stadium. The Stadium Development Agreement covers the conditions of construction, community commitments and funding framework for the stadium that will see Boyd’s minor league baseball team return to the city after more than 2 decades at Smokies Stadium in Sevier County.

Governor Lee, Commissioner McWhorter Announce 6K Energy to Establish Battery Material Manufacturing Plant in Jackson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter and 6K Energy officials announced today the company will invest in a full-scale PlusCAM™ battery material manufacturing plant in Jackson, Tennessee. 6K Energy will invest $166 million in the plant for construction and equipment, expanding to $250 million in future phases. The company will also use its recently announced $50 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant opportunity for the factory placing the initial combined investment over $200 million.

Fed’s Bostic sees one more quarter-point rate hike, then a hold ‘for quite some time’

Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic said Tuesday he envisions the central bank approving one more interest rate increase before pausing to see how policy tightening is impacting the economy. “One more move should be enough for us to then take a step back and see how our policy is flowing through the economy, to understand the extent to which inflation is returning back to our target,” Bostic said during a live interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” That 0.25 percentage point increase likely will come at the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee’s May 2-3 meeting. CNBC