Anna Johnson Executive Director with WBR Chamber of Commerce

Our Chamber has the same New Year’s resolution every year -to provide services that enhance the well-being of our team members, our members, and the communities where we live and serve.

After two years of life-uprooting curveballs thrown by a global pandemic, the end of 2022 was marked by COVID-19’s near-absence of a presence in daily life. However, the pandemic’s impacts still reverberate, certainly so in the pressures that our small business face every day. 

As the Executive Director, I spend a lot of time speaking with business leaders. I want to know what’s on their minds, their challenges and how our Chamber can support them. Invariably, the conversation always turns to this question: What will business look like next year, in five years, in 10 years and beyond? 

A tremendous change is underway in business and industry. Of course, technology is a big driver; analytics, artificial intelligence and digital transformation will alter how organizations operate and serve customers. However, there’s more to the change than high tech. Several other factors are at play. The other part of this equation is climate change. Many of our industrial plants are starting to address big environmental issues through their carbon capture initiatives, which shows the positive influence that we can have in the region and the state! The past year we have seen industry leaders and state officials tout how these carbon capture projects could bring jobs and tax revenue to Louisiana while keeping greenhouse gases out of the air that worsen global warming. It’s hard to ignore the jobs and tax revenue promised to West Baton Rouge through these initiatives - we have already seen a wave of incentivized projects which includes over $10 billion pledged by incoming industrial projects in West Baton Rouge, to bring in nearly 1,000 new jobs. How neat would it be to see Louisiana, namely the Capital Region, be the leaders and pioneers in what is sure to become a global initiative over the next decade?

What else is altering business? We know that business needs are changing. I think the other part of the equation is how we saw schools begin to evolve to meet new organizational expectations. West Baton Rouge was awarded the Reimagine Grant in 2022 - a new funding opportunity for Louisiana school systems to plan and implement transformative and sustainable local innovation. The purpose is to graduate students ready for college and careers. With this grant, West Baton Rouge schools will develop a CTE Academy, offering programs in welding, electrical, engineering, CNA, CMA, and biomedical fields. We are finally giving ALL students a path to success, whether college is on the table or not. 

Leadership shakeups were seen across West Baton Rouge this past year, with Superintendent Wes Watts retiring, and Interim Superintendent David Corona stepping in to take on this role in the education system, which impacts our economic development, private industry and more. West Baton Rouge School System is expected to announce Corona’s replacement as early as March of this year. And certainly, all eyes were centered on who would replace former Senator Rick Ward, who left his seat last year in the Louisiana Senate after 10 years of service. Former Parish Councilman Caleb Kleinpeter will take over his seat this year and serve a district that stretches from Simmesport to Morgan City with borders on the East at Plaquemine and at Krotz Springs on the West. 

2022 also saw the close and subsequent reopen of a highly anticipated chapter – the need for funding and location of a new Mississippi River Bridge. All three potential locations named are in Iberville Parish, which surely will change development patterns in the region, namely West Baton Rouge. 

While 2023 is an election year for our legislature, it is also a fiscal year for session – an interesting combination. While I believe we will see a lot of posturing from lawmakers this year, I am excited and hopeful for the new wave of leadership we will see in the next 12 months. And let’s not forget at the end of this year Parish President Riley “Pee-Wee” Berthelot will retire after serving in office since 2004. All eyes will be on that race, with talks of Parish Government Representative Jason Manola to succeed him. 

A Look at our 2022 Report Card

Chamber of Commerce

• Hosted our first Annual Small Business Summit in which we identified 34 small businesses that we have been working with on applying for state incentives, Covid relief programs, or grants. 

• First Annual Comedy Night! 

• What’s on the Horizon – Spring Kickball tournament; first annual “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?’ competition; Leadership West

Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP)

Louisiana Legislative Auditor released the results of their compilation of information and statistics on the Industrial Tax Exemption Program and the cost of the program to local governments in Louisiana for 2021, entering into 2022. We are currently still waiting on the 2022 year-end report, but some notable metrics:

Per Capita Taxes

Levied and Exempted 

• West Baton Rouge – ranked #7 in the top 25 parishes 

• Chemical manufacturers accounted for 80% of ITEP tax exemptions, with petroleum and coal products accounting for next highest share at 6.5%

New ITEP Projects in West Baton Rouge:

• Gron Fuels - Grön Fuels, LLC (Fidelis Energy) is a new $9.2 billion renewable fuels complex RIGHT HERE in West Baton Rouge!

o This new plant will create 340 direct jobs by 2024 and will produce 60,000 barrels per day (BPD) of renewable diesel with a permitted jet fuel option. 

o At full build-out, the complex will involve over $9.2 billion in total investment and would employ an upwards of 1,025 direct employees, and an average annual salary of $98,595, plus benefits.

o The project benefits from substantial existing infrastructure at its host site, the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, including a recently completed unit train terminal, a large grain elevator at the site, a deepwater port accommodating transoceanic vessels, and interconnection with the Bengal Pipeline. 

• Arbor Renewable Gas LLC (Operating as Magnolia Renewable Fuels LLC)– an $800 million manufacturing and distribution facility employing carbon capture and sequestration emissions-reduction technology in West Baton Rouge.

o Arbor Renewable Gas produces renewable gasoline, sustainable aviation fuel, and green hydrogen from forest residue and waste wood.

o The project would create 32 new direct jobs with average annual salaries of $99,000, plus benefits.

o Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project would also support at least 110 indirect jobs, for a total of 142 new jobs in Louisiana’s Capital Region. The company estimates development of the facility would generate up to 880 construction jobs at peak construction.


Property Tax Renewal

• West Baton Rouge voted to renew the 15-millage property tax in November.

• West Baton Rouge’s property tax equals about $8.5 million a year in taxpayer funding for 10 parish schools, which is a fifth of the general fund.

• This fund pays for teacher salaries, school resource officers, school structures and resources, and even covers electric and water bills.

Reimagine Grant

• Reimagine School Systems is a new grant funding opportunity for Louisiana school systems to plan and implement transformative and sustainable local innovation.

• WBR CTE Academy – purpose is to graduate students ready for college and careers!

• Offering programs in welding, electrical, engineering, CNA, CMA, and biomedical fields

• Community Partners – Placid, Dow, Exxon, Turner Industries and more

New Library

• State Rep. Edmond Jordon, D-Brusly, secured $200,000 from the state Appropriations toward purchase or renovation of a branch on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

• This year we will see work to convert the old Fred’s Discount Store into a library for the area between Addis and Brusly.

Looking to 2023

Despite the way the economy seems to be trending, West Baton Rouge remains steadfast in its growth—businesses are adapting to market changes and continue to find reliable - yet very lucrative—opportunities and ways to review current software, change operations, upgrade staff, improve communications, and help customers navigate in uncertain times. 

And while we’re proud of these advancements and our ability to innovate new strategies and services, we’re also proud of what hasn’t changed in West Baton Rouge: our unflagging commitment to delivering for our members, businesses, and community at the very highest levels, and to doing what’s right.

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