Business owners David Minton and Nathan Jordan are riding the economic success of a booming southwest Louisiana region through a combination of passion and local resources.
Inspired by other emerging startups like Waitr, Minton and Jordan found success using the Southwest Louisiana Entrepreneurial and Economic Development Center Business Incubator in Lake Charles to help turn their dreams into reality.
The business incubation process offered guidance, training and the opportunity to network with other business owners. Further, the affordable rent and equipment decreased overhead costs and allowed Jordan to invest savings back into his business, Principle Engineering Services, LLC,.
"The outlook is bright both for our region and for our business," said Jordan. "We look forward to being part of the positive growth happening in Louisiana and are grateful for all those that support the efforts of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance and the SEED Center."
David Minton has also seen his business flourish. Cypress Engineering and Development Group was recently named LED Small and Emerging Business of the Year by Louisiana Economic Development and U.S. Small Business Administration.
"Our decision to start our business was not necessarily a function of a thriving economy, but a function of passion for what we do and how we can better our community," said Minton. "We look forward to the future of southwest Louisiana in the years ahead."
The SEED Center was created and is operated by the SWLA Economic Development Alliance, an umbrella organization of several economic development groups that support five parishes in southwest Louisiana, with much of the area being served by Entergy Louisiana.
George Swift, SWLA Alliance president and CEO, said Entergy has been a community partner since the Alliance's inception in 2006.
Examples of other Louisiana programs and organizations supported by Entergy Louisiana grants include:
"Entergy has been one of our major partners and investors since we began," Swift said. "Their support of the Alliance and the SEED Center has allowed us to do a number of great things. Right now, our region is leading the nation in industrial projects."
Whether it's through investments to help create jobs and spur community growth, donating to law enforcement agencies to protect officers and residents, supporting the arts and beautifying urban spaces, or aiding local food pantries in an effort to alleviate hunger - Entergy gives back year-round to the communities it serves.
"At Entergy, we believe that we have a responsibility to power life in our communities in ways that go beyond the power grid," said Jody Montelaro, Entergy Louisiana vice president of public affairs. "By investing in community organizations like the SWLA Alliance and others, we are creating opportunities for our friends and neighbors to realize a desired quality of life right here at home."
$8.6 million donated to Louisiana groups
Entergy Louisiana is helping protect one of the last pieces of coastal prairie land that once stretched across two million acres of Louisiana.
A portion of the Cajun Prairie, named as a tribute to the exiled Acadian settlers who called it home in the early 19th century, was discovered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in the summer of 2017 in an Entergy Louisiana right-of-way near Sulphur. It is one of the few remnant coastal prairie sites in the state.
This habitat had nearly vanished, mostly due to land conversion for agriculture and development, and experts estimate less than one percent (approximately 6,500 acres) of the grassland habitat remains among isolated parcels. Coastal prairie has been identified as a priority habitat, and the LDWF is working to locate additional prairie remnants in southwest Louisiana.
Entergy Louisiana works with a number of conservation organizations to help manage the coastal prairie. Some techniques used to maintain the prairies that occur within the company's right-of way include vegetation management and selective herbicide use in order to preserve what exists and to assist in restoration efforts.
"Louisiana's coastal prairie was a vast treeless landscape with an abundance of grasses and wildflowers reaching heights of six to nine feet tall," said Brian Sean Early of the LDWF. "The coastal prairies once possibly supported as many as 600 to 700 species of grasses and wildflowers, as well as bison, red wolves, whooping cranes, prairie chickens, northern bobwhite, diverse waterfowl, an array of pollinators and other wildlife."
Despite the limited remaining acreage, Louisiana's prairies still serve as refuge for rare, threatened, and endangered birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants and many others. The coastal prairie also serves as habitat for several at-risk pollinators such as bees, beetles, butterflies and other insects.
The Entergy Louisiana coastal prairie supports more than 100 colorful, native plant species and is one of the few remaining locations where marshhay cordgrass is found on dry sites and outside the coastal wetlands. Coastal prairie wildflowers are a diverse group with many species belonging to the sunflower, legume and mint families and bloom in a range of colors including green, white, yellow, blue, pink, purple and red.
"Losing the coastal prairie would cause our state to lose beauty and natural diversity," said Early. "Each coastal prairie remnant, no matter how small, provides sources of local seeds for restoration projects and serves as a model for coastal prairie restoration outcomes."
Coastal prairie remnants not only provide habitat for wildlife, they also sequester carbon and store water to offset flooding. "Without the many small prairie remnants like that of Entergy Louisiana, properly restoring and reestablishing much-needed habitat across south Louisiana would be difficult to nearly impossible," Early said.
Andrew Cola and Todd Poche have a lot in common: they graduated from Lutcher High School, settled down in Gramercy, and devoted the last three decades to serving their St. James Parish neighbors.
"We're dedicated to St. James Parish and all the parishes we serve, and we take our jobs seriously," said Cola, a lineman who joined the company in 1985 as a meter reader. "People here know us, and they admire the job that we do."
Based at Entergy Louisiana's office in Reserve, Cola and Poche help keep the lights on for customers in St. James, St. John the Baptist and Ascension parishes. The Entergy veterans describe their group as a tight-knit team of professionals who are uniquely skilled for the rigors of line work.
"Entergy's been in the community for a long time, and customers appreciate us," said Poche, who also began his Entergy career as a meter reader more than 33 years ago, in 1984. "The area we cover is rural and spread out, so we stay busy every day and we're also on call. When a storm pops up, you may end up working all night. You never know what's going to happen next, but you have to be ready."
As recently as April, they were called out after a tornado touched down early one Saturday morning in St. James Parish near Paulina, damaging homes and knocking out power in a cluster of communities.
"I got the call about 5:30 that morning in Grand Point," Poche said. "We worked until 1 a.m. the following morning, all day and all night, to restore service for customers."
"It's not just turning a switch back on -- you have to assess the situation and have a plan, and you have to know the circuits and equipment," Cola said.
They've also seen technological advancements over their careers that have helped improve reliability for customers and made their jobs safer.
Away from work, Cola and Poche love spending time with their families and unwinding with favorite hobbies. But no matter what they're focused on in their off time, they're always ready to spring into action for Entergy Louisiana's customers if the call comes.
"You've got to love this job, and you have to be dedicated," Cola said. "It feels great when someone recognizes the work I do, because we're part of the community. When we're out working, people know us by name. That means a lot."
In addition to providing highly reliable service, Cola and Poche are part of a team that's earned a reputation as the best in the business when it comes to storm response. Entergy has received national recognition a record 21 years in a row for excellence in emergency response.
Entergy Louisiana crews repair tornado damage along River Road in Convent in February 2016
The Edison Electric Institute awarded Entergy a 2017 Emergency Recovery Award for employees' support of customers after Hurricane Harvey and a 2017 Emergency Assistance Award for helping other utilities recover from Hurricane Irma. And Entergy just recently earned another Emergency Assistance Award for its assistance to utilities in the mid-Atlantic states and New England hit by nor'easters this past winter.
Entergy has received a total of 29 EEI awards and is the only utility in the nation to have won an EEI Emergency Response award every year since its inception.
Entergy Louisiana has invested nearly $5 billion over the last five years modernizing and strengthening infrastructure while keeping rates among the lowest in Louisiana and the nation -- and they're about to get even lower in the coming months.
Entergy Louisiana customers will see a series of rate reductions in 2018 under an agreement approved in April by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Initial reductions took effect in May as a result of $210 million in federal tax-reform-related savings, $105 million of which will be returned to customers through the end of 2018 and the remaining half returned to customers over the following four years. As a result, a typical residential customer using 1,000 kWh per month will see a roughly $4.20 decrease on monthly bills from May through December of 2018.
When broken down by parish, St. James Parish residential customers can expect to save more than $400,000 through the end of 2018, thanks to rate reductions tied to tax cuts and paying off bonds used to finance storm restoration costs following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Entergy is the power behind the state's revamped site selection website. All of Louisiana's state and regional economic development agencies can use the online tool from Entergy that gives the state maximum visibility in the competitive arena of site selection.
Entergy Louisiana is a leader in helping bring industry and jobs to the state -- including St. James Parish.
Since 2010, Entergy has actively participated in 140 announced economic development projects in Louisiana totaling more than $77 billion in capital investments and nearly 18,000 new direct jobs. Twelve of those projects are located in St. James Parish, including Nucor Steel, Yuhuang Chemical Inc. and Formosa Petrochemical.
Our low rates convinced YCI to sign an agreement for Entergy Louisiana to power its new $1.85 billion methanol complex on the old St. James High School property.
It is the most recent example of Entergy Louisiana's successful partnership with state and local economic development agencies. For 10 years running, Site Selection magazine named Entergy Corporation as one of the nation's Top 10 Utilities in economic development.
Support from Entergy Louisiana also powers the Louisiana Site Selection Center website, which helps attract more businesses and industries to the state. More than 50 sites in Entergy Louisiana's service territory that have been certified as ready for industrial development thanks to the partnership between the company and its state, regional and local allies.
Entergy Louisiana provided support to workforce training programs across the state including creation of the Certified Line Worker Training program at Fletcher Technical Community College in Schriever.
Entergy Louisiana's role in economic development includes helping prepare the workforce of the future. In 2016, Entergy launched a five-year, $5 million workforce development initiative across the company's four-state service territory. Entergy Louisiana is applying its $1 million portion to boost several programs designed to educate, train and prepare residents for a variety of careers.
In addition to those programs, Entergy Louisiana and other members of the Louisiana Energy Workforce Consortium announced the Certified Line Worker Training program. Entergy Louisiana provided a $50,000 grant to launch the program at Fletcher Technical Community College in Schriever. Graduates receive National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) certification, are qualified for employment as line helpers and receive job placement assistance.
Entergy Louisiana has served St. James Parish residents and businesses for more than 90 years. Through charitable grants and volunteer activities, Entergy supports a wide range of causes that are key to building stronger communities. Recipients have included Sixth Ward Elementary School, St. James Parish Hospital, Woods Learning Academy, American Cancer Society, St. James Parish Council on Aging, Fifth Ward Elementary School and Lutcher High School.
Entergy has donated nearly $260,000 to nonprofit and other organizations to help the people of St. James Parish over the last five years.
Entergy Louisiana was recently singled out by St. James Parish for its role as a community partner. St. James Parish's Council on Aging and Department of Human Services presented the Community Action Agency Partner Recognition Award to Entergy Louisiana to highlight the company's financial and volunteer support for programs such as free tax preparation services, energy-efficiency programs and community projects. Entergy also supports the Council on Aging's toy and coat drive, which provides coats for needy schoolchildren every year.
Entergy Louisiana also offers The Power To Care, a program that provides emergency bill-payment assistance for elderly and disabled Louisiana customers, and presented a $920,000 check to the program in 2017.
Entergy Louisiana was recently recognized for helping Power Life in St. James Parish through grant contributions and volunteerism. Pictured, from left, are Bedar Warren, St. James Parish director of human services; Milton Cayette, St. James Council on Aging chairman; Flo Dumas of Entergy; Rhonda Colar of Entergy; Timmy Roussel, St. James Parish president; and Ingrid LeBlanc, St. James Parish assistant director of human services.
Entergy strives to be a leading corporate citizen. Entergy continues to be recognized as a trailblazer in environmental stewardship and corporate sustainability. Entergy was the first U.S. utility to voluntarily commit to stabilizing CO2 emissions, and for 16 consecutive years the Dow Jones Sustainability Index has included Entergy on either its World or North America index or both.
Entergy has taken a leading role in working to create a more resilient Gulf Coast. The company has funded research and pilot projects and participated in public outreach efforts to build a consensus for action. Our employees are making a difference, too, volunteering to help rebuild wetlands as well as other environmental improvement activities.
Entergy also works to do business with suppliers that operate in socially and environmentally responsible ways. The company manages its supply chain using a defined supplier code of conduct, incentives to build a more sustainable supply chain and a program that encourages and facilitates greater supplier diversity. In fact, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council recently presented Entergy with the America's Top Corporations for Women's Business Enterprises award.