I-49 might bring industry to Plain Dealing

By ADAM DUVERNAY, The (Shreveport) Times

PLAIN DEALING, La. (AP) — An empty lot in Plain Dealing illustrates the problems and potential future of the north Bossier town and little hamlets like it.
The lot is a 49-acre industrial park totally void of activity on which only one business — a now-shuttered garment factory — has ever operated. Try as town officials might, they cannot land new business there because of topographical and accessibility issues.
But there's opportunity in Plain Dealing as Interstate 49 inches toward completion. If the industrial park can be moved to a new location, one of Bossier's quietest towns might capitalize on big rig traffic and attract new industry which may halt the exodus shrinking that town.
"This town does well financially. I'm not saying we're rich, but we do well here. We're able to sustain ourselves," said Plain Dealing Mayor Wiley Robinson. "But economic growth and jobs would set this little town on the map again."
Robinson, the town council and Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation President Rocky Rockett are tackling the issue of the industrial park, though they see no benefit to moving so quickly they miss the real opportunity.
The challenges are many.
The park is set north of the Plain Dealing's little downtown. Its acreage is comprised of fenced-in hills, a 17-acre lake and the three acres covered by the garment factory. There's no rail access and the winding roads have kept away those businesses that need big rigs.
Efforts to fill the park have failed. A tractor trailer manufacturer pulled out of negotiations several years ago because of the winding roads. A small manufacturer of food items wasn't satisfied with the available labor pool.
"It doesn't lend itself to that light industrial, quasi-heavy industrial use," Rockett said. "You try to stem that exodus of the younger community from a community like Plain Dealing or any small community. So you have to have those opportunities. The first investment is always the biggest, because after that people find it easier to make the next investment."
If a new plot of land on Louisiana Highway 2 or Louisiana Highway 3 can be purchased and correctly zoned, marketing Plain Dealing would be simpler, Rockett and Robinson said. Plain Dealing is within 10 miles of the future I-49 corridor, an eventual flood zone of commerce and logistics which will need and develop many ports of call.
But capitalizing on that will take time, research, money and will.
Little town issuesJust more than 1,000 people lived in Plain Dealing when the U.S. Census Bureau took account of the town in 2010. The median age of Plain Dealing residents is 45 years old, but only 21 percent of its 409 households had children under the age of 18.
The saw mills and farms that once made Plain Dealing a booming little town are all gone, said lifelong resident and Police Jury representative Sonny Cook. Now there's nowhere for people to work and nothing for them to do.
"It's not like that no more. Everybody left for better jobs," Cook said. "The young people are leaving and we have to start somewhere to get business and jobs in Plain Dealing."
If there's a place for them to work, they'll also need a place to play, Cook said. Bossier City and Benton far outpace Plain Dealing in terms of parks and recreation.
For that, Robinson said they're looking back to the industrial park.
"This is very preliminary, but we've talked about maybe putting in a process where the Police Jury along with the town would try to make it a parks and recreation area. Maybe a ball field or two, walking tracks for the adults, paving and a lighted-type complex, maybe have a flea market up there in the future with a pavilion of some sort," Robinson said. "Anything we can do for the improvement of the town. It looks like industrial-wise we're just at a roadblock."
There's no money right now for that kind of construction, Cook and Robinson said, but both added any success story starts with a good idea.
Add a few light industrial facilities at a new industrial park, a beefed-up labor pool, residents moving in and staying put, the bleed-over dollars for existing and new storefronts and the taxes that go along with all that and the future could include a thriving Plain Dealing.
"Plain Dealing is a pro-business community, a smart community. They're a willing community. They think ahead. They plan ahead," Rockett said. "In my opinion, they're sitting in the catbird seat with possibilities when I-49 completes and opens."

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