SouthBound - Summer 2023

Decades of Economic Development Leadership in Louisiana

By Michael Randle, Editor

With the retirement of Michael Olivier from the Louisiana Committee of 100 for Economic Development and the term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards leaving office January 8, 2024, economic development in Louisiana won’t look quite the same if it is assumed that current Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson will ride off into the sunset with Edwards.

I spent lots of time with Pierson at the Rural South Economic Development Summit in Cleveland, Miss., that we put on in August. He is not done working and you will hear about what he moves on to soon.

Olivier was appointed Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development under the late Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was at the helm when Katrina and Rita devastated the state and its economy in August and September of 2005.

Gov. Bobby Jindal was governor between Blanco and Edwards. Jindal appointed Stephen Moret Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development and Moret ran things for most of Jindal’s two terms.

I first met Michael Olivier in 1992 when he was Executive Director of the Harrison County Development Commission in Gulfport, Miss. It was an exciting time.

For me, I had just sold all of my local business publications in Birmingham, Ala., and was searching for my next entrepreneurial publishing venture. I wanted and planned to create a Southern Forbes, a general-reach business publication covering the South.

I had already struck up a relationship with the Forbes CEO at the time, Steve Forbes. I told Steve Forbes my idea and asked if he wanted to invest in it. He said, “Mike, I don’t have the time. You would not believe what I am about to do.” He ran for President of the United States.

So, I started traveling the South with my new idea, meeting with business types such as CEOs of companies and those in economic development. I met with Olivier and explained that a “Southern Forbes” was probably out of my reach financially. He immediately responded, “Well, do an economic development magazine about the South and send it to company CEOs up North. That is where each of us in the South gets our prospects, anyway.”

“Brilliant,” I thought. So, Southern Business & Development was born that day in 1992. In other words, SB&D and its marketing angle were created. It was Olivier’s idea, not mine.

Olivier went on to become Louisiana Economic Development Secretary and then CEO of the Louisiana Committee of 100.

Don Pierson had been No. 2 behind Olivier and was named Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development in the John Bel Edwards era. Both men have done extraordinary jobs as leaders of economic development in Louisiana for decades.

The Louisiana economy has always relied on oil and gas and so many things that are born from that elixir of compounds and feed stock, such as LNG. Deals like Cheniere Energy’s multi-billion-dollar LNG export facility in Southwest Louisiana, where George Swift operates, almost became commonplace during Olivier’s, Moret’s and Pierson’s tenures. The Pelican State will miss your leadership, I am sure.

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