Voices speak volumes for economic development

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, March 16, 2019

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


Despite the county judge announcing he was submitting his letter of resignation, Orange County Commissioners Court remained full after a 10 minute recess as citizens, business owners, city and county officials took their three minutes to speak in support of Orange County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and tax abatements as a tool to attract new companies to the area.

One person, Trudy Pellerin, reminded the court and the audience, the judge was one vote out of five.

“If anyone spent five minutes talking with the judge, you would know he is passionate about the growth of Orange County,” Pellerin said. “We are a prime location. If Chevron doesn’t locate here, it won’t be because of the judge’s vote but the unprofessional manner he was treated.”

Pellerin said she watched the judge get blasted and it was very unprofessional.

“It’s the real reason for all the drama,” Pellerin said.

Another person said her topic was not the same as all the others present today.

“I am here about the garbage collectors,” Essie Bellfield, of Orange, said. “We need a law or an ordinance about passing the trucks.”

Bellfield spoke of a woman who has sat at the location where Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated for 31 years.

“I am not going to stand in the streets, but I sure as hell will fight you,” Bellfield said. “My concern is respect for the garbage collectors.”

President and CEO of Stark Foundation Tad McKee, while stating his opinion in support of the EDC headed by Jessica Hill negotiating deals with incoming businesses also reminded the court of a deal struck with DuPont 80 years earlier.

“Lutcher Stark was in favor of deals to bring companies here to Orange,” McKee said. “He donated the land to bring DuPont here.”

McKee added, “It behooves us to bring out all the incentives we can to attract businesses. It is a small price to pay for the years if return.”

Examples of the returns he spoke of included more help for the cultural attractions and more volunteers.

“It’s a win-win,” McKee said.

West Orange Mayor Roy McDonald said he believed his opinion was reflective of most of the mayors, however, he was not speaking for them.

“To land a project of this magnitude would benefit the county and the citizens as well as the schools. It is important to the growth of the county,” McDonald said. “We need to be totally committed together to land the investments in our future.”

Robert Currie, owner of Innovative Air Solutions told the court about how impressed he was as a child when he would see all the workers leaving Livingston Shipyard when his mom would pick up his dad from work.

“This is the largest project in the history of Orange County,” Currie said. “Not just this one, but all the ones to follow. This is the break we have been looking for since I was a child.”

Currie added he was proud of the county to see so many citizens and business owners united.

“Stay focused on our future,” Currie added. “The future not for us but for our kids.”

Orange Stationer co-owner Paul Dickerson said has seen how new businesses create jobs.

“The Motiva expansion easily tripled business,” Dickerson said. “Restaurants were filled and new hotels were built. Our business grew with new employees hired and services expanded.”

He added businesses in Orange County are ready for growth.

“The community benefits with new business,” Dickerson said.

Former Bridge City mayor and current city council member Kirk Roccaforte said he loves Orange County.

“I have to thank the judge for what we see here today,” Roccaforte said. “It brought people out and shows we want growth.”

However, not all reaction to the announcement of Crooks resignation has been positive.

In an anonymous email, The Orange Leader was told:

It’s a sad day for Orange County with the Judge resigning.  The Commissioners should have their heads examined for being duped into believing tax abatement is the determining factor for Chevron Phillips wanting to build in Orange County!

They want the location.  It’s about location!  Tax abatement is a SIDEBAR.

Mob rule is not good.”

Another email read:

“Orange County Judge Dean Crooks resigned today.  Commissioners Court will definitely be missing a man with a vision of what the future could look like when spending the citizen’s tax dollars.

TAX ABATEMENT’S!  This is something Cities/Counties would give a company to do business and help grow the economy.  NOT giving abatement’s didn’t mean the Business would NOT come and it didn’t mean the business WOULD come.

Judge Crooks was thinking different than what people were accustomed to and it caused him to resign the seat that he ran for and won,” Orange City Council member Annette Pernell wrote.

Betty Harmon, once president of the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, said she was partially to blame for tax abatements.

“It was the Chamber and Orange County Judge Thibodeaux who are responsible for having tax abatements,” Harmon said. “They have all grown and made big businesses. Everyone who knows me knows I bleed Orange. I believe in the growth of Orange County. I am so happy to see the attendance today.”

Van Choate, the owner of Tuffy’s, reminded the court that it is the people in the trenches who make this happen.

He read a message he received from a woman who wanted to work and her husband who is in construction is currently in Georgia working.

“We need to be able to bring her husband to Orange,” Choate said. “People want to work.”