LED encourages small businesses to apply for nationally acclaimed program

Halen Doughty
Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Don Pierson

Louisiana Economic Development encourages small businesses across the state to apply for the Economic Gardening Initiative, a nationally acclaimed program that helps second-state firms gain new markets in other states. The initiative helps generate new sales and import greater value and income to Louisiana communities.

The Louisiana Initiative has been recognized as a best practice by the Edward Lower Foundation, which administers the program nationwide and hosts the National Center for Economic Gardening. Eligible Louisiana businesses will be growing companies of $600,000 to $50 million in annual revenue and staffs of five to 100 employees. Since its inception seven years ago, 213 companies from all eight regions of the state have combined to create 1,367 new full-time jobs while increasing annual sales by more than $215 million.

"Louisiana Economic Development is committed to accelerating small business growth in our state," said LED Secretary Don Pierson. "Small businesses generate most of our private-sector job growth, and we want to provide small business owners and their employees with an environment that helps them flourish. For that reason, I've charged LED's Small Businesses Services team with pursuing innovative ways to spur small business growth. The Economic Gardening Initiative is among the best tools we've discovered that can optimize small business performance in sales and job growth."

CEO Chris Meaux of the Lafayette-based company Waitr, Inc. said the Economic Gardening program identified markets his firms could enter and as the sole player or the largest player while capturing market share ahead of competitors. Waitr is a smart phone app that enables local restaurants to deliver food and other services to customers. Within six months of completing its Economic Gardening engagement, the company expanded to thirteen new markets. Meaux announced the addition of a 100-job technology operations center in Lafayette in June 2016.

“Economic Gardening changed our market expansion efforts from being a guessing game to having clarity where there was a high likelihood of success,” Meaux said. “We had a proven business model, but we needed to know how to expand it. The Economic Gardening program saved us time and money in our expansion efforts and resulted in stronger markets. Each launch has been successful – and we’ve been able to bring them up faster and easier. Economic Gardening has played an integral part in the development of our growth strategy."

LED connects Economic Gardening participants with a four-person team of skilled researchers in specialized tools like geographic information systems and digital marketing. The partnership helps business owners address specific growth opportunities. Initial consultations include up to 36 hours of market research in strategic areas with the option fr two more rounds if criteria are met.

"Louisiana remains a poster child for a successful Economic Gardening program, and LED keeps us at the foundation on our toes by never settling for the status quo,” said Paul Bateson, general manager of Economic Gardening at the Edward Lowe Foundation. “Just last year, LED and the foundation collaborated to implement a beta program that will work with the business owners, post-engagement, at 30-, 60- and 90-day intervals to ensure they are successfully utilizing the information received. This collaboration is a major part of overall Economic Gardening improvement across all our programs. You just don’t typically see that level of innovation coming from state agencies."

The program helps companies focus on two or three business challenges. When the engagement is over, assistance is available for companies to turn the research into an action plan. Louisiana's Economic Gardening Initiative is funded entirely by LED. For every dollar invested in the program, the State of Louisiana has seen a return of $11.13.

"The State of Louisiana continues to be a model for a well-run, effective Economic Gardening program,” said Chris Gibbons, the founder of the National Center for Economic Gardening. “Most notably, the Louisiana program has produced outstanding results. In addition to metrics, it’s important to recognize the behind-the-scenes infrastructure: at every step, the state has excelled. They continue to get key staff people trained and certified in the program and work with us at the National Center for Economic Gardening to spot and resolve any issues as the program advances.”

For more information and an online application, visit

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