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St. John to employ 454 over five years

The Monroe News Star

TALLULAH — St. John Enterprises’ top executive said his company was searching for a rural port at which to expand its barge building division so it would have maximum economic impact on the community.

“Our goal was to put a smaller community back to work,” St. John’s Ron Lewis said. “We want to (instill) pride in a community.”

As first reported at thenewsstar.com, St. John chose the Madison Parish Port for its expansion that will create 454 jobs during the next five years.

Gov. Bobby Jindal joined Lewis and a full house of residents and officials at the Tallulah Community Center to make the announcement official.

“I truly believe this is one of those events that can help transform a community,” Jindal said.

The state secured the company by offering an incentive package that includes the FastStart work force training program and a $1.4 million performance grant, St. John is also expected to assess the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption and Quality Jobs incentive program.

State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, was among the officials who made early contact with St. John.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our area,” Thompson said. “These are the kind of living wage jobs that we so desperately need in the Delta.”

St. John will hire about 100 workers during the first year. The jobs will average $40,000 in annual pay and full benefits.

Louisiana Fast Start officials are working with the company this week to prepare an avenue for job applications.

The company will locate in the facility formerly occupied by shipbuilder Northrop Grumman, which eliminated 95 jobs when it closed its Madison Parish port operation last fall.

Northeast Louisiana Economic Alliance President Tana Trichel, who was among those recruiting the company, said Northrop Grumman’s exit made the St. John project even more significant.

“Those workers at Northrop Grumman have the same skill sets that this company needs,” Trichel said.

Longtime port director Clyde Thompson said the port will be St. John’s partner.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes on our end to make sure they succeed,” Thompson said.

Lewis said the company will invest $32 million to upgrade the facility and buy new equipment, building multiple rail spurs within the plant.

He said St. John uses a method he believes is unique to the industry.

“We’re going to build barges the way Henry Ford built cars,” Lewis said. “By using our assembly method we can build six barges at once instead of just one at a time.”

He said the company is re-establishing the industry in the United States.

“We’re competing on a world wide market,” he said. “Shipbuilding has left this country. But we can compete. We have an order to deliver six barges by Dec. 31.”

Lewis said the company plans to begin production at the Madison Parish Port in October.

©2015 Francis Thompson. All Rights Reserved.
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