One effort focuses on making the Houma-Terrebonne Airport a hub for unmanned aircraft.
Recent studies have shown that for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes to boost their economies, they should diversify their economies so they are less reliant on the oil industry.
But complete diversification isn’t going to happen overnight, Terrebonne Economic Development Authority CEO Matt Rookard said.
TEDA hired Garner Economics to study the local economy in 2016. The report suggests one resource with potential is the Houma-Terrebonne Airport.
As a result, TEDA is partnering with Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Fletcher Technical Community College in Schriever and the airport to bring an unmanned aviation system to Terrebonne Parish.
TEDA is working to create a public-private partnership for research and development on how to bring this new technology to the parish, Rookard said.
Contrary to the popular concept of smaller, almost-hand-held-size drones, these unmanned aircraft are more like full-size helicopters without pilots, he said.
This kind of technology is mainly used for military purposes but has applications in commercial industries like oil and gas.
Once formed, the public-private partnership will seek research dollars to fund the program.
“Take a sector with an existing strength and within that identify a specialty. If you invest heavily into technology, you end up with a new specialty within that industry,” Rookard said. “Then you can look at applying that to other industries.”
Terrebonne’s existing strength is the oil industry, specializing in logistics. By investing heavily into unmanned aviation systems that can be used in that field, the technology can later expand into other industries, such as coastal restoration, Rookard said. Insurance companies can use unmanned aircraft to assess damage after storms.
“These things don’t exist as we sit here today, but if you can deploy that technology, there’s opportunity to create them,” he said.
In December, representatives of TEDA, Nicholls, Fletcher and the airport traveled to the University of North Dakota to get an inside look at its unmanned aircraft program and explore a possible partnership, Rookard said.
Right now, the group is looking for funding.
The airport has committed some funds to make infrastructure upgrades but in order to get approval from the Federal Aviation Authority, more work is needed.
TEDA has also been working on scholarship programs for minority-owned contracting businesses to receive accreditation training to compete for local construction jobs.
“A lot of these contracts go to the same people over and over because there’s only so many qualified companies,” Rookard said.
The agency is also working with the Entergy workforce-development program to train students for jobs utility companies are looking to fill.
TEDA will present other diversification and economic-development plans later this month to the Terrebonne Parish Council, Rookard said. He declined to comment on specifics.