By Anne Cosgrove
From the January/February 2023 issue
This past September, a groundbreaking plan to create an offshore wind-powered hydrogen energy industry cluster in south Louisiana was awarded $50 million from the Build Back Better (BBB) Challenge, administered by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). Dubbed H2theFuture, this project was one of 21 selected for funding through the 2021 American Rescue Plan competitive grant program. The $1 billion BBB initiative seeks to boost economic recovery and rebuild communities through “transformative investments” in regional industry clusters.
The winning Louisiana proposal—led by Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO) and its affiliate Greater New Orleans Development Foundation—creates a roadmap for decarbonizing Louisiana’s manufacturing sector while creating new energy jobs. The federal grant will be supplemented by $24.5 million in matching funds from the State of Louisiana.
“Today’s announcement by President Biden and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo is a significant milestone in Louisiana’s transition to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diversified energy future,” Governor John Bel Edwards said. “As the first state in the Gulf South to implement a Climate Action Plan, Louisiana has demonstrated the vision and leadership required to meet the historic challenge that climate change represents. This infusion of federal and state dollars, on top of the nearly $20 billion of private capital investment in Louisiana emissions reduction projects announced in the last two years alone, moves us closer to the ultimate goal: net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
The H2theFuture proposal includes safeguards ensuring that business, procurement, and training opportunities are made available to all stakeholders and communities. The plan also prioritizes protecting legacy energy industry workers through the creation of retraining programs that will convert traditional skill sets to low-carbon processes.
H2theFuture aims to create a new clean energy business model in Louisiana, consisting of five interconnected workstreams: Workforce training (H2W); Business development (H2BD); Higher ed-based “testbeds” (H2T); Public-private partnerships (H2P3); and Organizational and governance “nexus” (H2N). The Business development (H2BD) element—charged with to attracting new and existing local and regional energy companies into the hydrogen value chain—will be led by Baton Rouge Area Chamber, in partnership with One Acadiana, South Louisiana Economic Council, Southwest Louisiana Economic Alliance (SWLA), and GNO, Inc.
In addition to GNO Inc., the 25-organization coalition developing the H2theFuture blueprint includes south Louisiana’s regional economic development organizations and regional planning commissions; Port of South Louisiana; four public research universities (LSU, ULL, UNO and Nicholls State) and four HBCUs (Dillard University, Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Southern University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana); the Louisiana Community and Technical College System; and several organizations focused on equity, including the Urban League of Louisiana and the Louisiana Parole Project.
“Securing one of the coveted Build Back Better Challenge awards solidifies Louisiana’s status as a global leader in the energy transition and a prime location for renewable energy investment and innovation,” Louisiana Economic Development (LED) Secretary Don Pierson said. “An economic development project of this scope and complexity requires an extraordinary level of stakeholder collaboration and cooperation. LED is proud to have played a role in leveraging existing economic partnerships and helping to forge new ones to move our entire state forward.”
Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water with electrolyzers powered by renewable electricity, such as wind; the carbon-free feedstock can then be used to power advanced manufacturing, commercial-scale transportation, and other energy-intensive processes. A study commissioned by the coalition concluded that H2theFuture could cut in half total emissions produced by hydrogen in Louisiana.
Bright Lights, Big City
This past December, Excella, an Agile technology firm that specializes in artificial intelligence and modernizing IT systems, announced it would establish a talent hub in New Orleans to expand its software development team serving government and business clients. The company plans to create 150 direct new jobs with an annual payroll of $21 million over the next five years.
The Virginia-based company was founded 20 years ago, and today is a 270-person, remote-flexible firm with locations in high-potential tech markets across the U.S. The firm’s offices are located at The Shop, a coworking space in downtown New Orleans. The state offered Excella an incentives package that includes a $2.7 million Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Incentive tax credit. The company is also expected to utilize LED FastStart, Louisiana’s nationally acclaimed workforce development program.
To help foster tech growth in the state, Excella plans to partner and invest in Louisiana-based organizations and events such as NOLAvate, Operation Spark, and Black Tech NOLA. “I’m excited to bring Excella to Louisiana and be part of building the state into the country’s most creative tech hub,” said Excella CEO and Co-Founder Burton White.
Said Norman E. Barnum IV, NOLABA President and CEO, “NOLABA looks forward to working with Excella to connect with the vast and diverse talent networks available in New Orleans. The future of technology employment will continue to become more flexible, and New Orleans is poised to benefit from this trend.”
And as entertainment entities peruse locations for their next production, the State of Louisiana has revamped its website dedicated to entertainment industry professionals. Visitors to the site—LouisianaEntertainment.gov—choose from four entertainment sector options (Film, Music, Interactive, or Live Performance) to access content optimized for the incentives, locations, crew and talent, business resources, and projects specific to their sector.
“As the entertainment division of LED, Louisiana Entertainment is committed to helping Louisiana’s entertainment industry grow and thrive,” said Chris Stelly, Executive Director of Louisiana Entertainment.