The gist: Personal protective equipment manufacturing is coming to Broussard, a project one economic development professional says may be “bigger than Amazon,” a reference to the fulfillment center the mega e-commerce retailer has under construction in Carencro.
Information is limited. Non-disclosure agreements have silenced everyone directly involved in the project, but sources familiar with the plans tell The Current that Ochsner Health, the state’s largest nonprofit health system and the parent company of Lafayette General Health, is a partner in the private venture. Ochsner’s stake in the partnership is not known, and The Current was unable to determine who the system is partnering with or any other details about the structure of the arrangement.
Trax Development, a general contractor based out of Northport, Ala., is involved in the property acquisition and permitting process, but the role of Trax and/or its principals in the ownership structure of the manufacturing facilities is unclear.
Ochsner officials declined to comment about the system’s involvement in the project, as did Louisiana Economic Development. LED spokesman Gary Perilloux says the department has a policy of not commenting on unannounced projects in part to protect confidential company information.
“Ochsner Health is committed to Louisiana and has great plans to invest in the health and wellness of Acadiana as well as all of the communities we serve,” Ochsner said in a brief statement to The Current Thursday afternoon. “However, we are not prepared to comment on any potential projects at this time.”
PPE remains in high demand. Limited domestic supplies of PPE and a heavy reliance on foreign imports strained health facilities to the breaking point early in the pandemic last year and left the U.S. more vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus. Some of those issues continue to plague systems nationwide to this day. An academic healthcare system, New Orleans-based Ochsner would likely be producing equipment for its 40 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and specialty hospitals and more than 100 health centers and urgent care centers in Louisiana and Mississippi. It is unclear whether the PPE manufactured in Broussard will be sold outside of the Ochsner system.
Project encompasses two separate sites. Sources tell The Current the project is spread over two locations, one on Saint Nazaire Road in Broussard, which includes the former Weatherford Artificial Lift Systems on the 200 block and surrounding acreage, and a second at Spanish Trail Industrial Park, which is located in the city limits of Broussard but is in St. Martin Parish. In early 2020, Louisiana Economic Development added the 50-acre tract to its certified sites program, a designation confirming it meets the state’s priority criteria for large industrial development. The park has two existing tenants, permitting records show.
“What I can tell you is that Trax Development bought property in that industrial park recently,” Broussard Mayor Ray Bourque says, referencing public records. “And they are soon to buy the Weatherford building.”
Multiple sources confirm to The Current that Trax has a purchase agreement on the Weatherford site and acreage adjacent to it.
On Feb. 24, Trax Louisiana (with Trax Development as the contractor) received a permit to commence $3.2 million in foundation work at Spanish Trail Industrial Park, 142 Lake Talon Road, according to records obtained from the city of Broussard via a public records request. Trax Louisiana registered with the Louisiana secretary of state on Feb. 1; 200 Saint Nazaire Road is listed as its principal Louisiana office, and Justin Hollingsworth is the only officer named on the paperwork. Trax Development was first licensed by the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors in August of 2020, according to the board’s online records.
“There has been a lot of speculation about what’s happening,” the Broussard mayor tells me. “I have some general knowledge,” he continues, noting that he signed a non-disclosure agreement that restricts what he can disclose publicly.
The Current was unable to reach Trax Development Thursday. Earlier this week, a man who identified himself as a Trax employee told The Current’s photographer that his company was utilizing office space in the former Weatherford building, but he would not provide any additional information.
This would be the second major workforce project for Acadiana in a matter of months. The Amazon fulfillment center, first reported by The Current in early October and confirmed by officials in December, is expected to create 500 full-time jobs with a total payroll of $16 million, and hundreds more indirect positions.