Eddie Hebert, Brian Walker and Jason Wilson's Letter to the Editor on the Economic Development Session
2018-2019 Leadership Tangipahoa Class at the Intralox facility.
Standing from L to R: Nick Gagliano (The Gagliano Group), Mike Tomlinson (Tangipahoa Parish Economic Development Foundation), Kyle Johnson (Pelican State Credit Union), Eddie Hebert (Southeastern Louisiana University), Erica Kelt (Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center), Amana Bennett (PJ's Coffee), Brian Walker (5 Stones Media), Jason Wilson (Centurion Insurance Services), Angela Beadle (Tangipahoa Parish Government), Abigail Comeau (Holly & Smith Architects), Kristen Pecararo (Tangipahoa Parish Government), Kristen Hebert (Jani King), Tammy Murphy (Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce), D'Ann Davis (Hampton Inn), Roslyn Varnado (Tangipahoa Parish School System), Mark Verbois (Theta XI Alumni Association), Jeff Jarreau (North Oaks Health System). Front row L to R: Ginger Cangelosi (Tangipahoa Parish Economic Development Foundation), Kathryn Edwards (Edwards & Stevens Law Firm), Myra Sharpe (Hammond Daily Star), Shawn Valenti (Intralox), Sibyl Cannon (Tangi Tourism), Mandy Lee (First Guaranty Bank), Kellie Wheat (Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce).
Beginning in August 2018, the 24 members of the 2018-19 Leadership Tangipahoa class began its year-long experience. Once a month, led by Coordinator, Nick Gagliano, we spend a day together, creating a professional network of new friends, and learning about the parish in which we live and work. Each week, we visit places we have never been, learn about the people and businesses in our parish, and have a better understanding of what makes Tangipahoa Parish great. Our session on Tuesday, April 16th was another educational and inspirational installment. The theme was Economic Development.
We began at Chappapeela Sports Park in Hammond, where Ginger Cangelosi, Kelly Wells, and Mike Tomlinson (Tangipahoa Parish Economic Development Foundation) informed us about their role in economic development in our region. With their eyes on attracting new business, and retaining and expanding existing business, the Foundation seeks to tout the characteristics of Tangi that make it attractive for business, and helps connect businesses to information and resources.
Before we left for our next stop, Lekesia Lee (Office Manager at Chappapeela Sports Park) filled us in on our parish's growing "sports tourism" industry. Under the direction of Ryan Barker, Chappapeela Sports Park has grown into a notable feature of the Tangi region. During the week, the 77-acre park hosts youth recreational leagues, adult sports, senior fitness classes, and provides a recreational park for families, featuring a walking trail, splash park, and playground. But, on the weekend, it is transformed into a big-time team sports tournament facility, attracting competitive events and teams from throughout the state and region. The families of these weekend warriors often spend the weekend, staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, and shopping in our stores. What a great industry to have at the I-10/12 crossroads!
We then made a short trip to a warehouse and met Ed Hoover, a local independent developer. He entertained us with a unique story about the history of Hammond (that involved produce and bumpy roads), and informed our class about the tremendous growth of Tangipahoa Parish as a hub for the warehousing and distribution industry. As an example, we got to peek into the 150,000 square foot warehouse occupied by Graham Packaging, Co. It was filled from floor-to-ceiling with empty coffee cans, manufactured locally and on the way to another south Louisiana location to be filled with Folgers Coffee and distributed around the U.S. This was just one example of a fast-growing business sector in our parish.
Our busses (supplied by the Tangipahoa Council on Aging) then drove us to the locked gates of the non-descript buildings of Elmer's Candy Company. Once inside the fence and through the security check, we donned our white lab coats and hairnets and began Ponchatoula's version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." For those of us who grew up on Elmer's Gold Brick Eggs, Pecan Eggs, and Heavenly Hash at Easter time, this was a look behind the curtain. Michael Nelson (President and COO) and Shelley Matherne (National Broker Manager) led our tour of the technologically-advanced candy making operation that makes 5 of the 10 best-sellers on Valentine's Day. Sorry we can't provide more details, but we are prevented from sharing industry secrets. Suffice it to say that we got to sample some of the merchandise, and it was great!
Our next stop was the Intralox facility, another Tangi business that many have driven past but never entered. Another fantastic experience! Our guides were Chris Verdigets and Shawn Valenti, who told us about the history and development of this global company (with beginnings in a machine to peel shrimp) that designs and manufactures modular plastic conveyor belt systems. The Hammond site is 1 of only 2 manufacturing plants that create their products that are later shipped to clients in 100 countries. What rides on their conveyance systems? Just about anything and everything you can eat, drink, or purchase. Intralox is the worldwide leader in their industry. And cool? Wow! The robotics, organization, and cleanliness of their facility was worth the trip! Another great Tangi business!
We boarded the busses one more time for a trip to the rural north end of our parish and, after driving along country roads, pulled in to Bracy's Nursery. Another hidden gem of a business to many, but not hidden to its customers - garden centers and landscapers. Mr. Randy Bracy and his family began with a pick-your-own-fruit farm, and at the suggestion of a customer, began growing peach trees in 1986. Today, he runs a wholesale nursery covering 240 acres (with 10 acres of greenhouse), employing over 100 staff, producing 700 varieties of plants, and distributing its potted plants from Oklahoma to North Carolina. Our tour on an old yellow school bus took us around the beautiful, organized, and spotless grounds (we got squirted through the windows by the irrigation system). It was a wonder to behold, and we enjoyed petting his dog, too.
On the bus ride home, as we talked about our experience, we exchanged things we saw, ideas we had, chocolate we ate. Once again, we realized that our Leadership Tangipahoa experience made us proud of our parish, and we recognized that the people and businesses in our Tangipahoa are special, unique, and wonderful, and we live in a region experiencing significant growth and possessing great potential. We close this letter with a special thanks to people and companies that make Leadership Tangipahoa possible. Thanks to Ginger Cangelosi and her staff at the Tangipahoa Parish Economic Development Foundation, who sponsored our day and catered lunch, and Nick Gagliano for coordinating the program. Finally, we'd like to thank our three sponsors, the Tangipahoa Economic Development Foundation, First Guaranty Bank, and Southeastern Louisiana University.
Eddie Hebert, Brian Walker, and Jason Wilson
Leadership Tangipahoa Class of 2019
Eddie Hebert, Brian Walker, and Jason Wilson
Leadership Tangipahoa Class of 2019
Eddie Hebert is a Professor and Head of the Department and Kinesiology and Health Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. SLU sponsored his participation in Leadership Tangipahoa. A Louisiana native, he has been a member of the Southeastern faculty for 22 years.
Brian Walker is owner and CEO of 5 Stones Media. His participation in Leadership Tangipahoa is sponsored by the Tangipahoa Economic Development Foundation, where Brian serves on the board as Vice President.
Jason Wilson is an Account Executive for Centurion Insurance Services. His participation in Leadership Tangipahoa is sponsored by First Guaranty Bank. Jason is a native to Hammond graduating from Holy Ghost Catholic School, Hammond High, and Southeastern Louisiana University.