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Hanna: Jindal will be missed

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Jindal Will Be Missed

Gov. Bobby Jindal will exit stage left Monday when state Rep. John Bel Edwards takes the oath of office to become Louisiana’s 56th governor. For many Louisianians, Jindal’s tenure couldn’t end quickly enough. For others, Jindal did a good job and history will judge him favorably.

In so many instances, party affiliation, or one’s personal opinion politically, has a great deal to do with how Jindal is viewed. Liberals, or advocates of big government and higher taxes, hate him, while scores of conservatives like him but feel he didn’t go far enough in reducing the size and scope of state government in Louisiana.

It’s certainly within reason to suggest Jindal’s decision making, particularly in his second term, was influenced by his personal ambitions. He didn’t hide his desire to become the Republican nominee for president in the 2016 election cycle. Though his foray onto the national stage was short-lived, Jindal is young enough (44) to play it cool for a spell and reenter the political circuit a decade or two down the road. Another run for governor wouldn’t be out of the question either.

So much could be said of Jindal, both positive and negative, but as far as this space is concerned for this week, all of us who live and work in east central and northeastern Louisiana would be remiss if we didn’t pause for a moment to remember what Jindal did for our small corner of the world.

Let’s start with the city of Vidalia in Concordia Parish where thanks to the Jindal administration and state Sen. Neil Riser, more than $11 million in state funding has been earmarked to aid the city in the construction of a 145-acre port, or river logistics facility, along the Mississippi River. Another $4.25 million in state funding is available for the project in the Capital Outlay budget though the fate of that funding is uncertain in light of state Treasurer John Kennedy’s attitude toward Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland. As Treasurer, Kennedy chairs the state Bond Commission, which determines which Capital Outlay projects get funded and which ones die on the vine. Hopefully Kennedy will set aside his animosity toward Copeland long enough for the city to complete the port. After all, only a couple of hundred jobs are at stake.

Though he’s a life-long Democrat who can count on one the hand the number of Republicans he can tolerate at once, West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris wasn’t griping about Jindal back in 2008 when Jindal, in his first year of his first term, steered almost $11 million to the city of West Monroe’s endeavor to help salvage the Sparta Aquifer, otherwise known as north Louisiana’s single, largest source of drinking water.

The Sparta Reuse project involved the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant in West Monroe, which takes wastewater, recycles it and makes it available for the Graphic Packing paper mill to use in its operations. Graphic Packing was drawing down some 10 million gallons of water a day from the Sparta before the new wastewater plant came online. Today, Graphic’s reliance on the Sparta has been reduced to virtually nothing.

Up in Union Parish, Foster Farms utilized some $50 million in state assistance from the Jindal administration to buy Pilgrim Pride’s predecessor plant, which had been closed. Hundreds of people lost their jobs while the economic impact of the plant closure ran into the tens of millions of dollars. Today, more than 1,100 people are employed by Foster Farms’ plant in Union with an annual payroll topping $30 million. You can thank state Sen. Mike Walsworth, too, for his role in securing the state’s assistance for Foster Farms.

Over in Delhi in Richland Parish, Lamb Weston invested more than $200 million in a first-of-its-kind operation to produce frozen sweet potato products. The Jindal administration, at the urging of state Sen. Francis Thompson, directed more than $30 million in state incentives to the project, which, eventually, will create more than 500 jobs. A $10-million annual payroll is in play as well.

Back in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana’s only Fortune 150 company, CenturyLink, expanded its corporate presence, constructing a 300,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility next to its corporate headquarters off U.S. Highway 165 in north Monroe. Some 800 new jobs are being added at CenturyLink to accompany the roughly 1,700 individuals CenturyLink already employed in Ouachita Parish. CenturyLink’s annual payroll in Ouachita now tops $200 million. The Jindal administration’s contribution to the matter entailed millions of dollars in relocation funding for CenturyLink to transfer employees to the region.

And thanks to CenturyLink’s presence in northeastern Louisiana, IBM has established a foothold in Monroe, ginning up some 400 new, direct jobs to work with CenturyLink on research, development and product innovation initiatives. The Jindal administration stepped up with some $12 million for office space for IBM while the University of Louisiana-Monroe, La. Tech University and Grambling State University will receive additional state funding over the next 10 years to help educate and train employees for IBM as well as CenturyLink.

So, in spite all that’s been written and all that’s been said about the outgoing governor, those of us who live and work in one of the most poverty stricken regions of the country can honestly say Bobby Jindal has been a friend. Mark my word. In time, he will be missed. In more ways than one.

Sam Hanna is a state political writer.