Insights > Charles Rice Addresses Algiers Economic Development Leaders
Charles Rice Addresses Algiers Economic Development Leaders
On Sept. 1, Entergy New Orleans, Inc. became the electric power provider for customers in Algiers previously served by Entergy Louisiana, LLC, bringing all of Orleans Parish customers under the Entergy New Orleans umbrella.
And in an effort to let Algiers residents know more about the great things happening all over the city – including the west bank – Charles Rice, president and CEO of Entergy New Orleans, delivered the keynote speech at the Algiers Economic Development Foundation's Oct. 7 annual business luncheon. Let's take a look:
"It's an honor and privilege to be a guest of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation during your annual business luncheon. I've been very impressed with the work being done by the Foundation to improve the business climate and quality of life for residents on the west bank of Orleans Parish. You have a true understanding of what it takes to rally people behind their community and show how all of us have a role to play in making Algiers better and stronger than ever.
The Foundation's future, and the future of this community, are very important to me, not only as someone who lives in Algiers, but also as the leader of Entergy New Orleans. My company has a long history of service -- we've been providing electricity and gas service to New Orleans for more than 90 years. Part of our obligation is not just to serve present needs, but also to plan ahead so that customers will continue having access to safe, clean, reliable and affordable power.
Just last month, we announced a major transition as the power provider for Algiers. On Sept. 1, Entergy New Orleans welcomed some 22,500 electric customers in Algiers that were previously served by Entergy Louisiana. Leading up to the transition, we made an effort to assure our customers that the transition would be seamless -- that the same dedicated employees who served your community's power needs in the past would continue to do so. We also continue to staff our east and west bank customer care centers to provide convenient and personalized service for residential customers on both sides of the river. Consolidating utility service in New Orleans also helped streamline the regulatory process, which saves time and resources for Entergy and the New Orleans City Council. Gas customers were not affected and will continue to enjoy the same quality service they always have.
In addition to my role with Entergy, I'm fortunate to serve on the board of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, where I've seen first-hand the tremendous work involved in revitalizing New Orleans and bringing prosperity, success and growth to our region. And as you know, much of the heavy lifting is done by volunteers -- by people who are more than willing to donate their time and talents to create a brighter future for their communities. Teamwork has been critical in rebuilding our city and our region after Katrina, and many of those efforts are happening here in Algiers, thanks to the leadership and vision of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I actually contemplated not returning home, but my love for the Crescent City led me back here, as it did so many others. Although I was not employed by Entergy at the time, I was proud of the role the company played in demonstrating leadership and loyalty to the city when its future seemed uncertain. Our then-CEO, Wayne Leonard, led the restoration not just of a company but also a city and its surrounding region. When Katrina's damages prompted Entergy to consider relocating its corporate headquarters, Wayne lobbied to keep Entergy in New Orleans and take a lead role in the city's revitalization and renewal. He still lives in Algiers today.
Ten years after the devastation of Katrina, the people of New Orleans continue to embody a spirit of hope, cooperation and resilience. And Entergy, now under the leadership of CEO Leo Denault, is continuing the journey with them. I'm excited about the future and all of its possibilities, in large part because of the tremendous progress I've seen over the last decade.
New Orleans is my hometown, and growing up here provided me with a great foundation that prepared me to be exactly where I am today. After a stint away at college and proudly serving our country as an officer in the U.S. Army, I returned, continued my education and started giving back to the city that has given so much to me. I'm proud to be affiliated with a company that works hand-in-hand with its communities to move New Orleans forward.
We proved after Katrina that we're capable of building a new future together while maintaining the character and spirit that define our beloved culture. New growth is happening every day, thanks to investments being made by businesses and industries that recognize the tremendous potential here, including Entergy New Orleans.
We are focused on job creation and helping to foster economic opportunity in our own backyard. In 2014, we helped attract nearly $45 million in new capital investments and created over 400 direct new jobs. We've partnered with our economic development allies at the New Orleans Business Alliance and Greater New Orleans, Inc. to attract such projects as the construction of the Costco Warehouse Club, the expansion and consolidation of Folgers Coffee and the return of the Chiquita Banana business to the Port of New Orleans.
Success tends to attract more success, and we're seeing this happen in renewal efforts all around us -- in our neighborhoods, parks, community centers, schools, universities and businesses. New Orleans continues to grow as does Entergy New Orleans. In fact, we are at 90 percent of our pre-Katrina customer count and that number keeps climbing.
Even though the city is landlocked, there is still a great deal of development going on, and that includes Algiers. As a leading champion of business, the Algiers Economic Development Foundation is playing an instrumental role in promoting the west bank as an attractive environment for economic opportunities. And Entergy also is doing its part to support economic growth and provide services that help both new and established businesses achieve success.
A local example is Event Rental, which recently relocated from Gretna to Algiers in the former Schwegmann's building. With Entergy's support, the business secured grant money to remove underground storage tanks and qualify for tax abatements to fund facility renovations. Event Rental brought its workforce of 80 employees to Algiers and is creating 70 new jobs.
This is just one of many success stories happening in Algiers. It's exciting to see the resurgence in local retail business, most notably along the General deGaulle Drive corridor and in Algiers Plaza. The Foundation's role in supporting the development of Federal City has been another major boost for Algiers. In June, the new Ochsner Fitness Center in the former Algiers YMCA opened its doors to the community. Also, the new Student Life Center building recently opened on the Delgado West Bank Campus. This was a milestone for Delgado in expanding its footprint in Algiers and enhancing its profile as a key asset for education and economic development.
With the support of local businesses and development partners, the Foundation has created and sustained a number of events that promote Algiers as a great place to live, work and play. One of those events took place recently during the first Algiers Fall Festival. This community celebration drew more than 3,000 people to Federal City to honor the men and women who serve our country. With such a strong start, it's not hard to imagine the Fall Festival becoming a favorite annual tradition for Algiers. Along with our sponsorship and thanks to your support, the Wednesdays on the Point summer concert series has grown exponentially since its inception four years ago. In addition, the West Bank Governor's Luncheon is still going strong after 28 years.
I think it's great that the Foundation also offers services that help educate entrepreneurs on the basic tenets of running a business. Free seminars on topics such as marketing and accessing capital are helping business owners gain a foothold in their markets and increase their chances of being successful. Entergy has been a sponsor of Business Mixers at Federal City as well as the first Building Block event in September focusing on revitalization of the historic Old Algiers community.
These events are helping foster teamwork and camaraderie across the business community, and they're also reminding us that building a better future begins with helping each other. The people here today believe in Algiers and in the tremendous potential of this community. Your efforts to drive positive change and growth are helping lift Algiers, and I know there are many more success stories to come.
Now, I'd like to talk about some things we're doing at Entergy New Orleans to create an environment that's conducive to economic growth for all of the communities we serve. Entergy's business development team knows energy is the lifeblood of new business. That's why we've devised a citywide strategy to drive economic growth and support community efforts to create jobs and local revenue. Over the past eight years, we have worked hard to keep our rates below national averages and in line with the Louisiana state average.
In order to power a thriving future for our communities, we're also focusing on projects to upgrade and modernize our utility infrastructure. This year we launched a $30 million upgrade to our electric power transmission system in New Orleans. The project will enhance reliability, increase transmission capacity and help ensure the availability of affordable power now and into the future. Throughout the first phase, our top priority was ensuring a safe, accident-free environment for both the general public and project crews. Not only did we complete it safely, we also did so earlier than originally planned. On Oct. 5, we began the second phase of the upgrade project, which we plan to complete in March of 2016.
Also this year, we asked the New Orleans City Council for authorization to purchase one of the four 495 MW generating units at the Union Power Station near El Dorado, Arkansas. Our sister Entergy operating companies are seeking to purchase the other three units. The Union Power Station is a highly efficient, natural gas-fired generating facility that went online in 2003. If approved, it will bring in the efficient power generation we need to meet the city's future energy needs at a cost lower than new construction.
These and other planned investments will help ensure access to safe, clean and affordable power for our children and their children as well. They'll also enable Entergy to continue delivering high levels of reliability and service to our customers and keep rates below the national average. While our investments in infrastructure will have an immediate impact, they also support ongoing development into the future. They reflect our strong commitment to do our part to drive economic growth in the communities we serve. And they are all designed to ensure our customers have access to smarter and more efficient technologies.
Of course, we can't talk about the future of New Orleans as a whole, or any of the thriving communities in this region, without addressing economic development and industrial recruitment. When you look at our future from that aspect, you realize that we've got a lot going for us in terms of teamwork and commitment. The Algiers Economic Development Foundation is a key player in the economic growth and revitalization of the west bank, and the work your Foundation and its members are doing today is invaluable.
Entergy New Orleans is proud to partner with the Foundation to help lay the groundwork for continued success. And I have a personal stake, since Algiers is the place where my wife and I have chosen to raise our family. I admire the work being done by the Foundation to strengthen economic development. As a resident, I know the Foundation cares about this community and the future of its neighborhoods, schools, businesses and quality of life.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Foundation and its members for being a source of positive momentum for Algiers, and for the work you're doing to create a bigger, brighter and more hopeful future for the place we call home."