Diversity Is Key
03/08/2016 08:13AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier
By Amanda Jean Harris • Submitted Photos
Instability in the world of oil and gas can easily strike fear into the hearts of those living in a land long deeply connected to the industry. But, it doesn’t have to in 2016. While low oil prices are never a welcome sign for this region long known for ties to oil and gas, they are simply not the only piece of the economic puzzle.
“It’s a challenging time,” says Iberia Development Foundation President and CEO Mike Tarantino. But, these challenges don’t mean what they once did to Iberia Parish and Acadiana. “We are used to the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry,” Tarantino says.
And, more importantly, our economic landscape has changed since the last oil bust.
“In the mid 80s we were much less diversified. But now, we are much more across the board with other industries and then the oil and gas industry itself is much more diversified,” Tarantino explains.
In addition to flourishing industries like expanding aviation, Port of Iberia developments and new expansions to Cypress Bayou Casino and the beloved McIlhenny restaurant and businesses, the oil and gas game has changed within itself, which means those low barrel prices aren’t as dire as they would have been 30 years ago or more.
“Back in the 80s, oil was either a land rig or shallow water drill. The oil field now, you have the same thing but you also have ultra deep oil and gas, shale, tar sand — many of these projects, especially ultra deep, look out over a longer period of time and aren’t looking for the quicker payback,” Tarantino says.
That longer-term end game means less pressure for performance now. “It can be 10 or 15 years before they expect profit with deeper projects and people are still moving forward with that,” he says.
Acadiana Regional Airport
In addition to the breadth of new oil and gas options within the industry is the area’s booming aviation business. The Acadiana Regional Airport broke ground in late January for a new passenger terminal that will change the game in aviation in Iberia.
The flights could come as early as fall for the 1,200-square-foot terminal. The addition is part of a plan to implement round-trip flights to Houston for those in oil and gas who make the quick, but often expensive, trek back and forth. There are about 300 oil and gas businesses along the U.S. 90 corridor that could use the flights in lieu of pricier options at the Lafayette Regional Airport.
Flights would be smaller — 30 to 50 passengers — with a goal of less than a dozen or so flights per week. The terminal will cost $800,000 and is one part of a multi-phase project to expand the facility. Other additions include more terminal space and a fire station.
Oil and gas industry travelers aren’t the only ones effecting change at the airport — South Louisiana Community College is working on a new school near the airport. The International School of Aviation Excellence will teach technical skills including a helicopter pilot training program.
“This is a good time to remember that you need to continue to upgrade your skills,” Tarantino says.
Tarantino points to even those who want to stay in the oil and gas industry using the lull as a chance to add to their existing skills to ensure they are both more diversified and even more qualified for the industry when it does bounce back.
“When it comes, back and it always does, you want to make yourself valuable by learning the latest and greatest skills,” he says. “Focus on skill training to make yourself attractive.”
He said paint and decal services are doing nondestructive testing at the airport while other businesses are eying the space, although he can’t share details of those possible developments, yet.
“A lot of things are in process,” he says. “But I can tell you that the airport has 1,500 acres of available property and there are four or five different prospects interested.”
Port of Iberia
Aviation isn’t the only industry with expanding horizons. The Port of Iberia is also an example of expansion in the face of downturn.
Dynamic Industries and Bayou Companies have both announced intent to expand along with Logan Industries and others.
“We’re really excited that in the challenging oil and gas environment there are still companies that want to expand and the Port of Iberia is a great place for that kind of work.”
The health industry is also growing, according to Tarantino who says they are diversifying in that area and continuing to recruit to bring the best health care professionals to the Iberia area. UL Lafayette has a primate research station at the airport where pharmaceutical research from around the world is performed.
Purchased in late 2015 by Iberia Medical Center and closed by year’s end, Dauterive Hospital is now — Iberia Medical Center — North Campus with both short-stay and outpatient services. There will also be room for behavioral health services, inpatient rehab, imaging and a sleep lab among other services.
If dips in shopping numbers are a concern, you would be hard pressed to see the evidence as the Ambassador Town Center Development moves full steam ahead anchored by deal giant Costco.
The 58-acre site will be home to six large national retailers as “anchors” — Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Field & Stream, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Nordstrom Rack along with a slew of eateries and smaller shops like Panera Bread and Chuy’s. The center located on the corner of Kaliste Saloom and Ambassador Caffery Parkway will include roughly 425,000 square feet once complete. Some stores will be opening as soon as this month with others slated for later in the year.
When it comes to eats, there may be no more iconic Iberia item than TABASCO®. The world headquarters for the hot sauce and home to the McIlhenny family — Avery Island — is enjoying growth as well including a $5.5 million expansion of the new Tabasco Pepper Sauce Visitors Center. The new facility includes historic pieces from the family’s archives dating as far back as the 1800s and a new tour.
A deeper, more detailed look at the TABASCO® operation gives visitors a greater understanding of how just three ingredients are at the foundation of the beloved brand that produces 700,000 bottles of the liquid peppery goodness each day. The museum has relics collected over the years and pays homage to the family’s rich heritage with portraits.
Cypress Bayou Casino
Destinations for eats aren’t hard to come by in Iberia Parish and Cypress Bayou Casino has solidified itself as a top spot for eateries both quaint and affordable as well as high end like Mr. Lester’s. But, they are adding far more — kind of a mini Vegas experience. A one-stop spot for everything from the traditional draws of the casino like table games and slots to a shopping destination and a spot for lounging by the pool come summertime with a lazy river and pool bar.
The expansion will include at $20 million renovation over the next year. Those additions will mean saying goodbye to some standards — like Café Bayou — and hello to new spots like Mabel’s Kitchen. Café Bayou was replaced with Café Delphine in mid January with the same quality of food and service, but a different feel.
The atmosphere of Delphine is decidedly more modern with a menu that ranges from a hearty 12-ounce rib eye for under $30 to seafood pastas, salads and poboys under $14. Two different gumbos (including a Turducken one) stand out on the soup menu while desserts like bananas foster rum bundt cake and white chocolate crème brulee bread pudding are a modern twist on beloved sweet favorites.
Mabel’s now offers a slew of quick, but hearty bites — burgers, salads and sandwiches — as well as breakfast.
One of the areas to expand will be the high limit areas and a new poker room. The poker room opened in mid-January with private seating, smoke free areas and a weekly tournament.
Hanging at the pool has become a draw at other Acadiana casinos and hotels and Cypress isn’t far behind. The renovations to the pool area will include not only a bar, but also a lazy river and poolside cabanas.