unmanned aviation

Our opinion: Diversifying Economy is Difficult but Worthwhile

Efforts to diversify the local economy – shifting its overwhelming focus from oil and gas to other, varied industries – have proven largely futile.

But there is every reason to continue this worthwhile, long-term goal that would remove some local workers’ dependency on a mostly robust but cyclical industry.

The oil and gas slowdown that has cost so many thousands of local workers their jobs is yet another reminder that no matter how lucrative oil and gas can be, depending too much on any one sector of the economy holds certain risks.

So it’s good to see the push for diversification continuing.

“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,” Terrebonne Economic Development Authority CEO Matt Rookard said. “Then you can look at applying that to other industries.”

He used as an example an attempt to use the Houma-Terrebonne Airport as a hub for unmanned aircraft, which could eventually expand into use in coastal restoration or storm damage assessment.

“These things don’t exist as we sit here today, but if you can deploy that technology, there’s opportunity to create them,” Rookard said.

Although it’s a good example, it is but one way TEDA and others are trying to open up the local economy to new companies and ventures that might eventually produce the kind of diversity other areas enjoy.

While the oil and gas industry has been a valuable local partner for workers and businesses, having all the region’s eggs in one industrial basket makes us more vulnerable to the fluctuations in that market.

The more our area can cultivate other industries, the better we can insulate ourselves against the slowdowns that are inevitable in every portion of the economy.

We have proven time and again that our workers and our local companies are incredibly useful to the oilfield industry. These same workers and others would contribute mightily to any industry in which they have training and education and in which there are employment opportunities available.

We don’t lose anything by trying to grow more and different opportunities for our workers and the many others who rely on the local economy. But failing to do so would be a terrible lack of planning and preparation.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.

DailyComet.com

 

Efforts to Diversify Economy Continue

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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.

-- Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 orjulia.arenstam@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gingerale214.