Money & Career
First Person with Don Pierson
3/5/2018 1:50:52 PM
Don Pierson

Appointed two years ago by newly-elected Governor John Bel Edwards to the post of Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development (LED), Don Pierson wasted no time getting down to business. He had the background for the job, bringing more than 27 years of economic development experience with him. He served as LED’s Senior Director of Business Development and as Assistant Secretary and Chief Marketing Officer for the Agency for 10 years. Before making the the move to Baton Rouge, he served for 17 years as the Executive Director of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation. Prior to entering the economic development field, he served as an Airborne and Ranger-qualified Infantry Office in the 82nd Airborne Division.

When it comes to the state’s economic development, Southwest Louisiana is a proud success story. Thrive visited with Secretary Pierson to get his insight on the state’s economic outlook and his goals for LED.

You’re a graduate of West Point and served active duty. How did your military background prepare you for a career in economic development?

My years as an Airborne and Ranger-Qualified Infantry Officer in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army speak to "grit.” It’s safe to say that I have a passion for service and an enduring commitment to America and our state. These are core values that guide me in everything I do. I think those values serve me well in leading LED. Economic development requires planning, organization, and executing a mission. That sounds a lot like the military. Importantly, the military provides that experience in organizing, planning and executing excellence, in service and in leadership. I strive to lead Louisiana Economic Development with passion, understanding, and excellence each and every day.

You’ve been in your current position for two years. What LED accomplishments are you most proud of during this time?

Our mission is to cultivate jobs and economic opportunity for the people of Louisiana, and we have scored important project wins in every region of the state. Today, over two million people are working in Louisiana. Since January 2016, Louisiana has attracted 83 major economic development projects that represent over $25.6 billion in new capital investment for the state. These project wins are attracting almost 20,000 new direct and indirect jobs to Louisiana, while also retaining more than 13,000 existing jobs. We landed the second best economic development deal in the entire country last year with the announcement of DXC Technology – the largest economic development deal in our state’s history – in large part because we stabilized funding for higher education. Unemployment has dropped to its lowest point in 10 years and more folks are out looking for and finding jobs than when we started this journey in 2016. And yes, there has been wage growth as well. Projects such as Lotte Chemical USA moving its corporate headquarters to Calcasieu Parish (and creating more than 130 new, direct jobs in the process) and the development of the Cyber Technology Corridor along Interstate 20, from Shreveport/Bossier to Ruston to Monroe, are testaments to the great things happening here. Meanwhile, we also have stepped up our efforts to grow our small businesses, which employ more than half of our private-sector workforce in Louisiana. We greatly value the role of small businesses in our state’s economy. I am proud to lead an organization that has achieved this record of excellence. 

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the state when it comes to recruiting new businesses?

It all starts with workforce. If our industries and businesses can’t rely on a skilled workforce, that’s trouble, so we put a great emphasis on preparing Louisiana workers for Louisiana jobs. A prime example of this is the $20 million advanced manufacturing training center that we’ve created at SOWELA Technical Community College. We worked out the funding for this important facility as part of Sasol’s multibillion-dollar ethane cracker project at Westlake, but there’s more to it than that. This state-of-the-art center will be a great asset for training our residents for a broad range of good-paying manufacturing jobs throughout this region. What’s more, our LED FastStart® workforce training program has been rated the nation’s best for eight consecutive years. Eligible companies can get customized employee recruitment, screening and training services from our LED FastStart team, at no cost. It has been, and continues to be, a great tool for us to recruit new companies to Louisiana or help our existing companies expand. 

Where are your plans for helping small businesses across the state be more successful?  

Small businesses account for 97 percent of all employers in the state, so it is in Louisiana’s best interest for them to thrive and grow. LED has an array of effective programs for small businesses, and they are constantly expanding to meet the needs of the business community in every region of our state. These projects include our Economic Gardening initiative, CEO Roundtables, Louisiana Contractors Accreditation Institute, Bonding Assistance Program, and the Louisiana Veteran Entrepreneurship Program, which we launched last year to provide Louisiana veterans with a custom training program to help them open a new business in the state.
 
What are your most critical goals for the next two years?

Our goal is to continue to attract more jobs, investment, and opportunity for Louisiana residents. Leveraging Louisiana’s resource strengths and realistic opportunities, we have identified nine key industries that represent continued progress or success in a relative new field of endeavor for our state.  To build a strong, resilient, and diverse economy, we’ll need success to be achieved in establishing operations in these key industries:
  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Aerospace
  • Agribusiness
  • Automotive
  • Energy
  • Entertainment
  • Process industries
  • Software development and IT
  • Water management

Louisiana has many competitive advantages, including a productive workforce, impressive infrastructure and logistics, a low tax burden, a pro-business climate, and the nation’s best workforce development program. We will make the most of them in order to grow both traditional and emerging industries in Louisiana. Our goal is to grow in our established sectors and make continued progress in the emerging fields where we have very real potential to succeed.  

How do the state’s current budget challenges impact your job as the state’s top economic developer?

Louisiana remains a great state for doing business, and our assets remain strong selling points. Again, last year alone, we announced 43 economic development projects in 21 parishes throughout our state. These projects accounted for 13,138 new direct and indirect jobs and more than $4.6 billion in capital investment. Among these projects is DXC Technology’s new, 2,000-job Digital Transformation Center in New Orleans. Louisiana bested 30 other states to attract DXC, a Fortune 250 company; the company will create more permanent direct jobs at one site than any prior economic development project in the state. Gov. John Bel Edwards wasn’t exaggerating when he described it as "an historic economic development achievement for our state.” The reality is all states have budget challenges, and the sooner we are able to establish greater certainty here, the brighter our future will become. Gov. Edwards knows this, and his efforts are focused very clearly on getting our state to that platform of fiscal certainty.   

On a regional level, Southwest Louisiana continues to experience record economic growth. What is fueling this and what do you feel needs to be done so the region and support and sustain ongoing growth?

The industrial boom in the Southwest Region is one of the great stories of Louisiana’s modern-day economy – and it’s a story that’s still being written. Our established companies have long been a source of quality jobs and major economic impetus for the area. On top of that, we’re in the midst of $45 billion in industrial construction projects that are underway in this region of Louisiana. This doesn’t happen by accident. It relies on a healthy business climate to set the stage for success, effective infrastructure for moving feedstocks in and finished products out, a productive workforce to get the job done, and an effective alliance of economic development partners at the state, regional and local level to keep us competitive. 

What’s the best career advice you ever received?  

Without question, I have embraced the philosophy of "lead by example.” Every day, in every way, seek to be the best at what you do. And before you think that sounds easy, please know what is required to achieve success. If you are going to be a manager of salesmen, you must first serve as a salesman. Whatever your field of endeavor, to effectively increase your value to the organization, and to one day be a leader, you must know every aspect, every element of every task. As a skilled and accomplished team member, you’ll earn the respect of your organization, and you’ll own its success. Over time you’ll find yourself in leadership roles and be comfortable with the responsibility that comes with that authority. I find myself mentoring a lot of young professionals – it’s a passion of mine. I am constantly encouraging them to combine both academic knowledge and real-world experience, but in all things, strive for excellence. If you love what you do, you’ll enjoy great satisfaction in your work. If you know every element of it, you’ll find progress and success come easily. Lead by example.
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