Mike Tarantino – President & CEO of Iberia Industrial Development Foundation

Mike Tarantino, President & CEO of the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation, joins Discover Lafayette to discuss the recent business developments which will change the trajectory of growth for Iberia Parish and all of Acadiana.

Passionate and well-spoken about business development and the need for all community leaders in the business and government sectors to speak with one voice if they want to attract top level investment in the region, Mike loves Iberia Parish and spoke eloquently and enthusiastically about all of the newest developments while never stopping once to look at written notes.

Mike Tarantino is a New Orleans native that moved to New Iberia with his family in the mid-70’s. He graduated from Catholic High School of New Iberia and never left. Mike previously served as interim director of the Acadiana Regional Airport and received the Richard E. Baudoin, Jr. Friend of Business Award in 2018 from the Junior Achievement of Acadiana Business Hall of Fame.

The Iberia Industrial Development Foundation is a 501(c)(6) business investor organization. Its board is comprised of both public and private sector individuals. “Half of the board comes from the public sector such as our Parish President, all of the mayors in the towns of Iberia Parish, the Director of the Port of Iberia, the Director of the Acadiana Regional Airport, and the Superintendent of Iberia Parish Schools, while the other half consists of private business leaders. It’s a place where private businesses and government come together to discuss plans for the future. We’re the folks that cast the line to get people interested in coming to our area. It has a different mission from a traditional chamber in that it is focused on professional economic development.”

Mike believes that economic development is a team sport. “It is very competitive and takes a well-honed team as well as the private and public sector working hand in hand. You have to be singing from the same sheet of music, working from the same game plan. When you market your community, many times the investors have already researched your community. Having a united front to put your best foot forward is the first step in attracting big business.”

Iberia Parish is poised for growth, especially given its assets such as the Port of Iberia which offers a 2000 acre industrial and manufacturing site, its location along Highway 90/Future I-49 corridor which runs right through the parish, and the Acadiana Regional Airport, the former Naval Auxiliary Air Station surrounded by 2500 acres of developable property. The Acadiana Gulf Access Channel is currently undergoing a dredging process to deepen its access channel from 13 feet to 20 feet in depth…a huge increase which will allow heavier traffic in from the Gulf of Mexico.

Iberia Industrial Development Foundation President & CEO Mike Tarantino with First Solar CEO Mark Widmar and Iberia Parish President M. Larry Richard (Courtesy: First Solar). “

Lafayette and Iberia Parishes share a workforce with a population of approximately 600,000 people who traverse the region. What positively affects one parish also positively affects the other.

2023 has been a very busy and productive year in Iberia Parish with a number of new developments taking shape that present great potential for growth in Acadiana.  The biggest announcement recently was the news of First Solar investing $1.3 Billion in a 2.3 million square foot facility at the Acadiana Regional Airport, its largest latest generation solar panel facility in the Western Hemisphere.

700 to 1,000 jobs will be created at First Solar, with a starting salary of $80,000. Mike credited UL – Lafayette’s engineering department, especially Dr. Terry Chambers of the Department of Mechanical Engineering who works with UL’s Photovoltaic (converting sunlight into electricity) Applied Research Lab, along with Dr. Mark Zappi and Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, for helping attract this facility. A vendor and supplier network to help local businesses connect to provide services to First Solar is also in the works….”A real ecosystem is needed so local suppliers can work together.”

Fusion One’s investment of $100 million at the Port of Iberia and Orleans is another big development. Fusion One processes used tires and plastic waste into green hydrogen. The local Iberia plant is expected to lead to 154 jobs with 110 new jobs and a $10 million annual payroll.

Cutting edge research is being conducted at the Pharmaceutical Lab at the UL – Lafayette Research Center where 9000 primates are housed. A $75 million investment by state and federal partners, along with UL – Lafayette, is being made to expand the Research Center and construct the Iberia BioInnovation Accelerator drug manufacturing facility at Progress Point Business Park. These investments will lead to the creation of a Level 3 biosafety lab at NIRC, the nation’s largest non-human primate center, that will enable advanced on-site research on infectious diseases. Mike explained the hope is to create a biopharmaceutical corridor that not only leads the way in research but keeps the manufacturing process local.

Delta Biofuels is investing $100 million in a bagasse pelletization renewable energy facility in Iberia Parish in Jeanerette near the Enterprise Sugar Mill. 165 direct jobs and a few hundred indirect jobs are expected to be created. Bagasse is a byproduct of sugar cane harvest such as the stalks and leaves; the product is turned into pellets to burn as energy. The product will be sold to the Asian market to replace coal in their efforts to transition away from fossil fuels. Mike Tarantino expects hiring to begin in the first quarter of 2024.

Aviation Exteriors (AvEx), which specializes in painting and decaling major aircraft owned by FedEx and the airlines, is investing in new hangar expansions that will facilitate maintenance, repair and overhaul work at the Acadiana Regional Airport and create hundreds of jobs.

Mike is excited about the diversity of new projects coming to Iberia Parish and the appeal of Acadiana to businesses looking to expand. “You can not beat Acadiana’s culture, its art and music scene, and the fact that people really want to live here shines through. Their employees will enjoy living here. When we tout this area, the culture is what makes us attractive.”

Mike wears many hats, also serving as Executive Director of the Iberia Parish Tourist Commission, and loves sharing the region’s many attractions. New Iberia was founded in 1779 by Spaniards and celebrates its unique Spanish heritage with its annual New Iberia Spanish Festival. With an award winning downtown where many local events are celebrated, it is located along the banks of the Bayou Teche. Felicity’s landing is a new draw for events to be held on the waterfront. Farmer’s markets and a new stage at the Steamboat Pavillion are also popular attractions. Conrad Rice Mill, the producer of the Konriko rice brand, is the oldest independently-owned rice mill in the United States. Jeanerette recently launched the French Bread Festival.

Mike has a podcast, The Mike Drop with Mike Tarantino, with a co-host Pat Bonin. Recorded monthly, you can find it on Spotify and learn the latest tips and trends to grow your business and learn more about why Iberia Parish is a good choice to locate.

Loreauville was recently awarded the Acadian Odyssey Monument. According to the Iberia Travel blog, “The monument is one of only two in Louisiana and 17 worldwide dedicated to those who were deported from Halifax (Nova Scotia) and scattered to various locations around the globe. Other monuments already exist in Houma, La., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and France. According to the SNA (Societe’ Nationale de l’Acadie) website, the mandate of the Acadian Odyssey Commission is three-fold: to commemorate the expulsion and odyssey of the Acadian people, to promote awareness of Acadian history and culture, and to promote the region of Acadie. The monument itself is an homage to the perseverance of the Acadians whose tenacity and faith led them through the tragic event of the “The Great Upheaval” or as it is called en Francais, le Grand Derangement.”

For more information on Iberia Parish, visit https://iberiabiz.org/

For more information on tourist attractions, visit www.iberiatravel.com