Washington Parish’s biggest cheerleader visits Rotary | Washington Economic Development Foundation executive director talks about business

Published 6:01 am Friday, August 10, 2012

“I’ve always loved Rotary.”

That was the opening remark by Washington Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Ryan Seal, as he began his program on Tuesday at the Bogalusa Rotary Club meeting, giving members an update on what’s going on in Washington Parish business.

Seal noted that he enjoys the fellowship of Rotary as well as the role and mission that Rotary International fills throughout the world. After a few remarks about his upbringing in Bogalusa and his early business experience in St. Tammany Parish, he settled into the work he does now at WEDF.

“This opportunity came up about nine or 10 years ago,” he said, “and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to try and help my home town and try to move the city and the parish forward.”

The caveat, he noted, is “when you actually have to go out and try to sell a city or sell a parish in a very competitive environment” you have to learn pretty quickly. But Seal did just that.

While many people think that WEDF is a subdivision of parish or city government, it is actually an independent operation, although, Seal said, they do get fees from cities for managing their industrial parks. The organization also receives donations from entities such as International Paper, as well as some state and parish money “every now and then, but by and large we’re not a subdivision of government.”

“I try to provide jobs for the people of Washington Parish, not just the city of Bogalusa,” Seal said, going on to share some of the things WEDF is working now in the parish.

At the moment, he said, two companies are looking to hire people for their companies. The first is the Salvage Store, which has locations in both Bogalusa and Franklinton. The owners, Ronald and Derek Feske, are moving the main distribution center to the Bogalusa Industrial Park, into a building that’s about 50,000 square feet, Seal said.

The Salvage Store, which at present is primarily involved in food, may in the future expand its services. Much of the merchandise, said Seal, has been damaged in transit, but some companies will sell their customer returns rather than restock them.

“I was out at the warehouse the other day and you never know — it’s just like a box of chocolates, you never know. He had bicycles, car tires, Christmas decorations, tools… for pennies on the dollar. If you’re a tool guy…” Seals’ face betrayed the fact that he probably is a tool guy. He went on to say that the Salvage Store owner has been in business for about 25 years. It was a business he started with about $500, right out of high school.

The other company hiring right now is Allied Material, which makes plastics for the U.S. government. They’re advertising for more help, Seal said, because they just got a new contract and they’re trying to upgrade their employees and get some new equipment to be able to handle more work. About 25 or 30 people will be hired for the operation.

Seal went on to talk about Roberson Printing, a commercial printer that moved into the industrial park about a year ago. The company, which is about 60 years old, was started in New Orleans. The operation prints newspapers, food store inserts, etc.

“Their main press is huge, its about as big as a school bus,” said Seal.

Over on the other side of the parish, at or near the Franklinton Industrial Park are businesses such as Thor Fabrication, Acme Machine shop and Grand Isle Shipyard.

Thor Fabrication, which is located near the industrial park, is a metal fabrication and welding shop with 25 or 30 employees that does a lot of work for the oil and gas industry. Thor does work for the Army Corps of Engineers, major oil companies, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, and a lot of other companies around the world.

Acme Machine & Welding is a sister company to Thor, but it’s “a more value added machine shop with a lot of CNC equipment that makes things like gears and sprockets for large equipment in the offshore industry,” according to Seal. Acme has a large building under construction now in the Franklinton Industrial Park, said Seal, and they’re putting the skin on the building.

“It will be occupied soon.”

Grand Isle Shipyard, which actually no longer builds ships, has been in the Franklinton park for about four years. They make all types of equipment used in the oil and gas business, both onshore and offshore, and shipped all over the world, according to Seal.

“That’s four old field service companies that we’ve had move to Washington Parish in the past five of six years,” he said. “There are 200 people working here in that industry that weren’t here several years ago.”

The oil business, both on- and offshore, is becoming a niche in Washington Parish, said Seal.

In closing, Seal said that he and the WEDF organization are always working to keep the parish and the city of Bogalusa moving forward.

“We’re always lobbying for highways and roads and access, industrial parks and things like that. And of course we all know we’ve waited 20 years (for Highway 3241) and we didn’t get the route we wanted but we got a route and I guess we’ll have to do whatever we’ve got to do with it,” said Seal. Continuing, he noted that businesses have a reason for locating where they do, giving the example of the paper mill locating in Bogalusa because there are more than enough pine trees around to support it.

“Years ago,” he said, “people would pick up and move to where there were opportunities to support their families. But times have changed, and more and more companies are chasing the workforce — it’s no longer the workforce chasing the company.”

He said that Bogalusa and Washington Parish have to find that niche, so that employers can come here and find the workers they need to be successful for the long term. Every parish has somebody, at least one person, to court companies to come locate there. They do whatever they have to get them to move, said Seal.

But, he said of the new companies locating in Bogalusa and Franklinton, “We did not give away the store to get these people here.”