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July 9, 2006

ULM offers development agency common playbook

More than a dozen agencies conduct some form of economic development in Ouachita Parish, and their approaches and information are just as splintered as their number.

But now all of them can at least access a single source of credible market data as they try to grow the economy by recruiting new business to the region.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe's College of Business, in conjunction with the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, has compiled a market report that can be accessed electronically by any agency or individual. ULM College of Business Dean Ron Berry said the report is complete and will be posted on the college's Web site ( within two weeks.

Berry said the market report is an example of the type of research he wants the college to produce as he restructures the Center for Business and Economic Research.

"We want to be the source of credible information," he said.

That accomplishes two things.

It does carry the credible weight of university research, and it should disarm any territorial concerns that have too often popped up in the past. ULM doesn't threaten any of the agencies' autonomy.

"It helps us present one front, or at least one consistent source of information," said Monroe Chamber President Sue Edmunds. "Everybody was using different numbers — some right and some wrong. I've always thought if there was something really good with information people could trust that everybody would use it."

Berry said the idea blossomed from a conversation with Edmunds about the best ways that the college can serve the business community that surrounds it.

ULM was able to land a grant that allowed economist Bob Eisenstadt to conduct the research and compile the fact book.

"It's a good example of how communication between the business community and college can pay off," Berry said. "If we hadn't had the discussion this wouldn't have happened."

Eisenstadt said that the report "focuses on providing information that a firm might use to base a location decision."

It includes key data about demographics, work force and education in Ouachita Parish and the northeastern Louisiana region.

That's information that can be used by agencies that the Ouachita Economic Development Corp., but also existing companies and entrepreneurs as they determine a strategy for growth or a possible startup.

Berry said that the information within the report will be updated annually.

"The quality of these types of community profiles is only good if it can be current, and that's another advantage we have with ULM as the caretaker of the information," Edmunds said.

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