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Auditors report suggests more scrutiny in economic development

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(The Center Square) – Louisiana’s approach to economic development might need more attention from policymakers, a new report says.

The state auditor’s analysis says an analysis of federal data shows the state was last in the Southeast for job creation and ranked second to last among the “energy-intensive” states – where coal, oil and natural gas production are key sectors of the local economy – such as Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

In January, after Gov. Jeff Landry was inaugurated, his administration tasked Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack’s office with doing an evaluation of the state’s economic development arm, Louisiana Economic Development. The new administration also wants to develop a long-term strategic plan for the agency, including a renewed target industry strategy

The report compared the state’s present strategy with 16 other Southeastern states. Eleven have either a quasi-public or nonprofit entity to either lead or support their economic development efforts. According to the report, five including Louisiana rely primarily on traditional government agencies to deliver their economic development services.

The report says that while quasi-public entities can be more flexible than a government agency, it warns that strong governance and accountability are needed to avoid issues such as those in Florida and Virginia.

Also, the auditor recommended improvements to Louisiana Economic Development’s strategic plan, which it says doesn’t specify which industries officials seek to target. They recommend the use of a strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats analysis to provide direction and focus to the strategic plan.

In fiscal 2023, Louisiana Economic Development spent $48.8 million on economic development activities which didn’t include incentives and grants paid to companies and the state’s Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit.

In a response letter, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Susan Bonnett Bourgeois wrote, “We agree that the current LED structure is an obstacle to fulfilling the agency’s statutory directives and LED’s stated mission ‘to cultivate jobs and economic opportunity for the people of Louisiana."”

“Major changes legislatively and internally must be made if LED is to comply with the spirit of the law that established the agency some 88 years ago.”