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Trip to Florida reveals possibilities for cooperation leading to economic growth

Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 5:04am

Southeast Louisiana is about to experience an economic boom that it is not prepared to handle.

Baton Rouge and New Orleans are starting to work together, to try to grow the region as a whole. But to learn how to do that, they had to visit Florida.

Approximately 100 members of the Baton Rouge delegation returned home Tuesday and Wednesday from the 2013 Super Region Canvas. They were joined by another 70 representatives of New Orleans and Lafayette for a couple days of meetings with civic leaders from Orlando and Tampa.

Their goal: study the two central Florida cities to discover how they have created a thriving economic region that spans from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

"One of things I learned last week was that we're going to have 68,000 new jobs in the next two years," stated Elizabeth "Boo" Thomas, President and CEO of the Center for Planning Excellence. "What are we doing, as a community, as a region, to prepare for that?"

Thomas, whose organization promotes economic development throughout Louisiana, though the series of meetings showed positive signs for our area because of recent cooperation between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

"To look at the advances that we've all made, and how Orlando and Tampa have cooperated in these very issues and these very arenas was really encouraging," Thomas said.

The trip was organized by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans, Inc. The two groups began working together in 2009 after deciding that years of competition hurt both cities.

The purpose of the trip was economic development. But their counterparts told them they were looking at the problem backwards.

"The economic development director for the city of Orlando kinda took the mic away from someone in the digital media session," Thomas recalled, "and said, 'you know, all this is fine and good. You can have any initiative you want.
But if you are not keying in on quality of life for our communities, it's all for naught. And you ought to be looking at an integrated plan for land use, transportation, recreational spaces, infrastructure, and doing this to make sure the people you want to live in your community stay in your community and are attracted to your community.'"

Mayor Kip Holden was joined as representatives of city-parish government by Metro Council members Joel Boe, Ryan Heck, and John Delgado. Delgado paid close attention to discussions about how crime impacts the economy and saw many similarities in all the cities involved.

"I think, once you see the numbers from the BRAVE program, you're going to see a significant reduction in crime in Baton Rouge over the last year," he stated. "That's the type of programs that they implemented in Tampa that has helped them."

But attempting to cut crime is not good enough, according to the speakers at the convention; cities have to look deeper for the root causes of crime.

"That was the sentiment throughout that whole crime session, was education, education, education," Delgado recalled.

Aside from the panel discussions, Delgado said a highlight of the trip was the ability to hold extensive conversations with Baton Rouge business leaders. They rarely have time to meet during the course of a normal day, but isolated amongst themselves, they accomplished a lot.

"I think it was an incredible experience," he said. "I don't think that a single person didn't walk away from it better off for having gone."

"And to see what has transpired in this short time, and the amount of cooperation that exists and bloomed on this trip, was worth the whole trip," Thomas added.

in the past, representatives from Baton Rouge have gone to other cities, such as Portland, OR, Austin, and Louisville for similar meetings. This was the first time that people from New Orleans were also included.

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