Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards detailed a series of transportation infrastructure and workforce training improvements being launched in Northwest Louisiana. The initiatives include highway and bridge projects that will accommodate the unique transportation needs of major manufacturing employers in the region, including Fibrebond Corp. For workforce development, training programs for skills sought by many manufacturers in the region will be expanded at Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College campuses.
A Memorandum of Understanding identifying those solutions was signed at Fibrebond headquarters in Minden, Louisiana, by Gov. Edwards and officials of the state Department of Transportation and Development, Louisiana Economic Development and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, along with state Sen. Ryan Gatti and state Rep. Wayne McMahen. Gov. Edwards announced on Sept. 26 that Fibrebond would retain its decades-long manufacturing operation in Minden as a result of the regional logistics and workforce training solutions to be provided by the state.
“With this document signing, we are launching important initiatives in transportation and workforce training that will begin here in Webster Parish, but their effects will be felt throughout Northwest Louisiana,” Gov. Edwards said. “The agreement signed today represents a partnership among several agencies that are truly committed to improving the quality of life for residents of the Northwest Region. These improvements will benefit local communities and major employers, including Fibrebond, which has a long and successful history in Minden and will continue to operate here for years to come.”
DOTD, with support from LED, will establish a heavy-haul route from Minden to Texas for over-height and overweight loads, providing more than 50 miles of highway capable of handling special loads and expediting the movement of commerce across Northwest Louisiana. To create this route, DOTD will lower the U.S. 80 underpass at Interstate 20, between Dixie Inn and Goodwill Road, in both the eastbound and westbound directions. That improvement will achieve a minimum vertical clearance of 17.5 feet, resolving a critical issue for the transport of oversized, custom-built loads to industrial customers.
In addition, the westbound U.S. 80 bridge over Boone Creek near Dixie Inn is currently being removed and will be rebuilt. DOTD also will begin a comprehensive replacement program for eight other bridges across the region.
“These projects are another excellent example of what this administration can accomplish when we collaborate on ways to improve our infrastructure,” DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said. “A viable solution that will benefit numerous industries in Northwest Louisiana was reached by working alongside our state agency partners, as well as with local and industry leaders.”
LED is committing $2.5 million in Rapid Response funds for DOTD to help with the speedy completion of these improvements. That funding will support the major work DOTD is completing, using in-house materials and resources.
LED also is committing $250,000 in Rapid Response funds to assist LCTCS in upgrading high-demand technical college training programs to meet the needs of Northwest Louisiana employers. In addition, LED has offered to provide the design and production services of LED FastStart®, which has been ranked the No. 1 state workforce training program in the U.S. for the past 10 years.
“A skilled and ready workforce and effective transportation infrastructure for moving goods in and out are keys to success for major manufacturers,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “These solutions will secure a steady pipeline of skilled workers for the good jobs provided by our manufacturing industries. LED is pleased to collaborate with DOTD and LCTCS on these important projects. Additionally, I wish to acknowledge that Fibrebond CEO Graham Walker was fair and deliberate in evaluating a number of options as he shouldered the responsibility of identifying a pathway that would sustain this important company and best support Fibrebond’s future. I greatly respect that CEO Walker considered other options, and feel honored that he has acknowledged Louisiana’s commitment to delivering the targeted solutions necessary to support Fibrebond’s long-term success.”
The targeted improvements in transportation infrastructure and workforce training are designed to benefit additional major manufacturers throughout the Northwest Region, including Ardagh Group, Benteler Steel/Tube, Calumet, Catamaran Solutions, Graphic Packaging, Haynes International, International Paper, McElroy Metal, Module X Solutions, Pratt Industries and Ternium. Many of these companies have requested increased production of welders, electricians and industrial maintenance workers from the state’s technical colleges.
LED and LCTCS will focus on improving workforce skills with expanded programs in those specialties at Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College. The college is based in Minden and has regional branches in Shreveport, Natchitoches, Mansfield and Many.
“Louisiana’s community and technical colleges and Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College are proud to be part of this MOU to improve workforce skills and build greater capacity for incumbent and future employees in the Northwest Region of our state,” LCTCS President Dr. Monty Sullivan said. “Through this agreement, we will upskill current employees in the region and produce more skilled welders, electricians and industrial maintenance workers for our industry partners to meet their immediate training and workforce development needs.”
“Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College is proud to partner with Fibrebond and the communities of Northwest Louisiana to maintain this employment in our communities,” NWTCC Director Earl Meador said. “We also are proud to partner with Louisiana Economic Development as we develop the workforce to grow our communities.”
Fibrebond specializes in the manufacturing of engineered-to-order structures and other complex products for use in data center, petrochemical, energy and telecommunications markets. The planned upgrades to roads and bridges in the region will accommodate vehicles transporting Fibrebond’s oversized and extremely heavy manufactured products.
“We want to be in Louisiana,” CEO Graham Walker said. “For 37 years, Fibrebond has built world-class projects here in Minden, Louisiana. Our people here make the difference, and I am thankful that the State of Louisiana has supported our team of 700 Louisianans and Northwest Louisiana with the public infrastructure and workforce training announced today. Gov. John Bel Edwards led the state to a solution that gives Fibrebond the certainty necessary for us to continue investing in Louisiana. Sen. Ryan Gatti has been instrumental in this solution. This entire effort has been about what’s best for Louisiana. We are a small, Louisiana-grown business, but we are accomplishing great things here. And we look forward to being here for many more years.”
“As mayor of the City of Minden, I appreciate the interest and attention that Gov. John Bel Edwards has shown to one of North Louisiana’s major employers: Fibrebond Corporation,” said Minden Mayor Terry L. Gardner. “The improvements in our local infrastructure, and promotion and support of Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College are crucial to the economic development of our area.”